27 March 2020
Statement to members on our covid-19 response
Statement from Equity Release Council Chairman David Burrowes following our recent covid-19 response consultation:
I would like to thank Equity Release Council members for responding to our consultation on a temporary modification of the face-to-face legal aspect of our standards, given the need to observe proper social distancing during the covid-19 pandemic.
The Council has agreed, following engagement and consultation across the industry, to enable remote provision of legal advice for equity release customers at this unprecedented time. The decision comes as a result of direct responses and collaboration from across the sector, representing all parts of the equity release customer journey. We have been particularly guided by advice from our solicitor members to ensure the protection of consumers is paramount.
This is part of our commitment, as an industry, to support our customers at this difficult time by finding ways to deliver services in line with our standards but also in a way that reflects the guidance of Government on social distancing and protects the health of customers and members. While the consultation outcome reaffirmed a unanimous commitment to the ‘gold standard’ of face-to-face legal advice, it has been recognised that there is a need for a pragmatic, flexible and time-limited alternative during this unprecedented period of national lockdown.
The Council is setting out a remote process using telephone or video facilities and additional steps to ensure customers are given the necessary legal advice. The physical witnessing of the mortgage deed being signed remains a requirement under UK law and needs to be carried out by an independent witness arranged by the client, under social distancing rules. The solicitor will, alongside remote legal advice, conduct additional due diligence to ensure the witness is valid.
It has been vital to receive all of your views and to follow due process before seeking to introduce any modification, and particularly to carefully consider how best to preserve the role of legal advice to guard against coercion and protecting vulnerable consumers. This is especially important in an environment of increasing pressure on household finances and supports those who might want access to the option of equity release.
The Council is currently finalising the workflow process for legal advisers together with guidance which will show how the new measures can be applied. This will be reviewed by our Standards’ Board after 12 weeks, against the context of the developing national response to the covid-19 pandemic, and then will be kept under regular scrutiny.
It’s important to note that face-to-face legal advice remains enshrined in the Council’s Standards and remains an option if and when Government guidance allows.