UK mortgage lenders face compensation bill for mishandling arrears

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The logo of the new Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) is seen at the agency's headquarters in the Canary Wharf business district of London April 1, 2013. REUTERS/Chris Helgren
By Huw Jones | LONDON

Britain’s mortgage lenders face compensation claims from hundreds of thousands of customers for incorrectly handling payment arrears, the country’s financial regulator said on Wednesday.

The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) said lenders were sometimes automatically adding arrears to the capital sum of the mortgage and also asking for a separate arrears payment.

This meant customers already in financial difficulties were temporarily overpaying on their home loans, facing extra fees and charges, and further damaging their credit rating.

The FCA published draft guidance on Wednesday for firms to work out compensation for customers by the end of June 2017.

An industry group set up by the FCA and representing 66 percent of Britain’s mortgage market estimated that 750,000 customers could be affected, with compensation potentially running to more than a hundred pounds each.

“Firms should start identifying affected customers immediately and not wait until the finalised guidance is published,” Jonathan Davidson, the FCA’s director of retail supervision, said in a statement.

Affected customers will be contacted by their lender, and no penalties are planned at the moment, but this could change if proper compensation is not paid.

Typically, arrears are bundled into the capital sum automatically when there is a “trigger” point, such as a change in interest rates.

The Bank of England’s rate cut in the summer means more customers could be affected than the 750,000 initial estimate.

The problem came to light following a court ruling in 2014 that Bank of Scotland unfairly double billed customers who fell into arrears on their home loans.

Following this ruling, the watchdog found that some banks had failed to check their IT systems were compliant with the FCA’s rules on handling arrears.

Some lenders had been unaware they were double billing.

(Reporting by Huw Jones; Editing by Mark Potter)

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