Charity chief to chair equity release standards committee

The Equity Release Council has appointed a new independent chair to its standards committee, which is responsible for developing the product safeguards that have helped transform the sector.

Michelle Highman’s appointment follows a consultation in which Council members overwhelmingly called for the committee to retain some independence and a competitive selection process.

Michelle is the chief executive of The Money Charity and a former member of the Financial Inclusion Commission’s advisory panel.

She also spent 13 years with the then Financial Services Authority playing a leading role in the implementation of a national financial capability strategy.

Michelle will chair the 11-strong standards committee, drawn from the Council’s membership, that has also recently been re-appointed and expanded.

Its composition reflects the disciplines required to deliver good customer outcomes and includes advisers, providers, solicitors, surveyors and technology specialists.

Meanwhile the Council has appointed two new independent directors while creating seven member-led forums and a member panel. The moves reflect current best practice in non-profit governance and give members more voice and influence.

Michelle said: “It’s an incredibly exciting and important time to join the Council. The organisation has already achieved a lot and has clearly put itself in a strong position to continue to deliver for members and their customers.

“Equity release can be a transformative financial product. Used appropriately it can provide a lifeline to hard-up pensioners or enhance the lives of others and their loved ones.

“But all potential equity release customers need the right support and advice to access products that are safe and appropriate, so they can decide if it’s right for them.

“The standards committee plays an incredibly important role in this process and it’s a privilege to be able to play a part.”

David Burrowes, Council chair said: “Michelle is ideally suited to follow in a long line of experienced and accomplished experts who have overseen the development of equity release consumer standards since 1991.

“Like those before her, Michelle is dedicated to delivering safe and sustainable financial products. I know she will make an important contribution to the continued evolution of our consumer focused safeguards.

“By joining the Council, all members pledge to go above and beyond statutory regulation to deliver good outcomes for consumers.

“The standards committee sits at the heart of the Council, enabling and enhancing those outcomes.”

Equity release allows homeowners aged over 55 to access money from their homes, without having to make repayments until they pass away or go into care, unless they choose to.

The Council’s product safeguards ensure: secure tenure for life; rates that are capped or fixed for life at the point of release; the right to move home; a no negative equity guarantee; and the ability to make voluntary penalty-free repayments, which can reduce interest costs.

Responsibility for approving the Council’s overarching standards and product safeguards remains with its board of directors.