Baroness Morgan of Cotes to become strategic adviser to StepChange Debt Charity

StepChange Debt Charity is today delighted to announce that the Rt Hon Baroness Nicky Morgan will take on the role of strategic adviser to the charity’s Board and Chief Executive.

Nicky Morgan brings with her a wealth of political insight and experience having served as Economic Secretary to the Treasury in 2013, Financial Secretary to the Treasury in 2014 and as Chair of the Treasury Select Committee from July 2017 to July 2019. She also spent time on the front benches as Secretary for Education from 2014-16 and for Culture, Media and Sport from 2019-20. Now a member of the House of Lords, Nicky has recently spoken in favour of bailiff reform and the need for support for those who find themselves in financial difficulties and debt due to the Coronavirus pandemic.

No stranger to StepChange, Nicky Morgan has had many contacts with the charity in the past, and especially during the Treasury Select Committee’s inquiry into debt.

John Griffith-Jones, Chair of StepChange Debt Charity, said: “We are delighted to welcome Nicky Morgan as an adviser to our Board and to Phil Andrew, our Chief Executive. We know StepChange will benefit greatly from her first hand experience of government. The coming months will be critical for ensuring those in financial difficulty are afforded the right support by StepChange and other charities in related fields. To have someone with Nicky’s insight advising us will be invaluable to achieving this.”

Nicky Morgan said: “I look forward to providing advice to StepChange on the current public policy landscape and to help them shape their strategy to meet the needs of people in financial difficulties, especially those directly or indirectly impacted by Coronavirus now.”

Amigo Holdings PLC: Interim results for the six months ended 30 September 2020

Amigo Holdings PLC (LSE: AMGO)this morning announces its half year results for the six months ended 30 September 2020.

Commenting on the results, Gary Jennison, CEO of Amigo, said: “It’s undoubtedly been a difficult period for Amigo but as a team we have made significant progress towards quantifying and addressing the challenges we face. As a Board we have a clear responsibility to all our stakeholders: from delivering the right outcomes for our customers as they manage the impact of Covid-19, to managing the wellbeing of our employees, and getting the business back on track for our shareholders.

“We are much better placed operationally to manage complaints and we now understand our position better. We have appointed professional advisors to help us look at all the available options; this work is at a very early stage. Where we’ve seen evidence of very poor behaviour by some CMCs, we have reported them to their regulator, the FCA. Our focus is on ensuring that Amigo retains its position as a viable unsecured lending platform for the 10-12m adults who are excluded from mainstream bank lending. We want to meet the varied needs of these potential customers, be that through offering guarantor loans or other unsecured loan products.

“We are engaging with our regulator, the FCA, on a regular basis and are actively participating in the Woolard Review. There are millions of people that cannot access mainstream finance today but deserve a chance to be able to access it tomorrow. We want to be part of the solution for increasing financial inclusion in the UK, that is our purpose and what we are working towards delivering in 2021.”

Headlines

  • Covid-19 related payment holidays granted to approximately 56,000 customers as at 30 September 2020. As at end of October this was 57,000 with 22,000 plans still active. Monthly collections remain robust at 83% of pre-Covid-19 expectations
  • Revenue reduction of 36.5% to £92.3m (H1 2020: £145.4m) primarily due to the temporary pause in all new lending except to key workers and the modification loss arising from Covid-19-related payment holidays
  • Net loan book reduction of 33.6% to £485.2m (H1 2020: £730.7m)
  • Impairment:revenue ratio at 21.1% (H1 2020: 31.1%) reflecting a significant reduction in originations
  • The provision for complaints increased to £159.1m (H1 2020: £7.5m) with an associated cost of £93.7m (H1 2020: £10.4m), following a review of the volume assumptions within our forward-looking provision to reflect ongoing higher levels of complaints
  • Reported statutory loss before tax for the period of £62.6m (H1 2020: profit £42.3m)
  • The tax charge predominately reflects the write off of a deferred tax asset
  • Reported statutory loss after tax for the period of £67.9m (H1 2020: profit £37.0m)
    £134.2m of cash as at 30 September 2020 (H1 2020: £27.9m) after a reduction in net borrowings of £230.8m from the prior year; cash as at 25 November 2020 of c.£160.0m reflects continued strong cash generation and a refund of tax paid
  • Net borrowings/equity: 2.7x (H1 2020: 2.0x)
  • The Board considers that it has adequate liquidity to continue to fund operations and support its customers. There is, however, a material uncertainty surrounding going concern due to the potential economic impact of Covid-19, uncertainty over future complaint volumes and the possible outcome of the ongoing FCA investigation.

Post period end

  • Complaints Voluntary agreement (VReq) deadline reached. As of 30 October 2020, Amigo had reviewed and reached a decision on all 25,571 of the complaints included within the VReq. Final responses were outstanding on 2,517 of those complaints, 2,209 relate to a specific group of complaints where guarantor payment has been a feature and 238 relate to complaints where further information is required from third parties to calculate redress due
  • Asset Voluntary agreement (VReq) entered into with the FCA whereby prior approval from the FCA is required to transfer assets outside of the Group. No effect on day to day running of Amigo or ability to pay down debt
  • An extension to the waiver period on the Group’s securitisation facility has been agreed in principle. We expect to announce confirmation of this shortly. During this waiver period, performance triggers will remain waived and all collections from securitised assets will be used to pay down the outstanding borrowings
  • Amigo is working with advisers to review options, that are acceptable to all stakeholders, to address the current level of complaints. While at an early stage, this includes assessing the use of a scheme of arrangement as a potential vehicle for customer redress
  • New Board and senior management appointments; well placed to manage the change and transformation required to position Amigo for the long term

*Detailed definitions and calculations of these alternative performance measures (APMs) can be found in the APM section of these condensed financial statements

Just Mortgages receives 750 applicants for Broker Academy

Just Mortgages is holding an Academy in January to bring new blood into the mortgage industry. The broker firm has already received over 750 applicants for its Broker Academy, demonstrating the enormous interest in becoming a mortgage broker. The huge number of applications reflects the sentiment that there has never been a better time to be a mortgage broker.

Just Mortgages reported record demand in September and October has been another strong month for the housing market as thousands look to take advantage of the stamp duty holiday. The huge number of applicants to join the Broker Academy appears to be a result of the incredibly busy mortgage market combined with an increase in those looking to change careers.

This year, more than any other year, there has been applicants from a massive variety of backgrounds. From those with experience in finance, graduates from university to estate agents and taxi drivers. Just Mortgages is still taking applications however from people in the industry who are not already qualified as a mortgage broker but would like to be.

From those who have submitted CVs, selected candidates will be invited to send in a 60 second video explaining why they want to become a mortgage and protection adviser. Then a select group will be invited to a virtual assessment day where a number of activities and to assess their abilities in a team and individual environment.

The successful candidates will start five weeks of intensive training in January. During that time they will go from raw recruits with no previous experience in the industry to fully-fledged Just Mortgages brokers.

The trainees will come from across England and Wales and have a variety of different backgrounds and professional experience. The training will take place either virtually or in person, dependent on Covid, and the recruits will graduate from the Academy in February.

A blended learning approach will be used, with traditional classroom instruction backed up by Just Mortgages’ own Learning Management System. This allows trainees to study in their own time and provides a more dynamic and interactive learning experience. Just Mortgages has received accreditation to enable the trainees to sit the exams at the firm’s own training facility, Covid permitting.

The brokers also receive training in all the necessary technology, and advice on how to use social media effectively to drive new business and will be supported by Just Mortgages to become successful mortgage brokers.

John Phillips, group operations director from Just Mortgages said, “The Broker Academy has never been more popular. With the rise in unemployment, we are seeing vast amounts of people looking to train as a broker from all walks of life. At Just Mortgages we are keen to invest in the future of the mortgage market and expand the pool of talent coming in. Therefore, those who come through our Academy will be supported with all the training and mentoring they need to succeed as a mortgage broker.

“It’s great to see such a variety of candidates looking to become mortgage brokers, the housing market has remained robust throughout the pandemic and the amount of people looking to join the industry reflects this.

“There is no set path to becoming a broker and we are equally as open to recruiting graduates as we are to those who have experience in other fields. The key for us is a desire to learn and fantastic people skills. Our brokers need to be personable, alongside giving sound financial advice and we have been really impressed by the quality of applicants this year.”

Comment on Chancellor’s spending review from Chirag Shah

Following the Chancellor’s statement today, Chirag Shah, CEO, Nucleus Commercial Finance said: “We’re pleased to see the Chancellor announcing ambitious spending plans, providing much-needed cash injections into the UK economy. After a challenging year protecting jobs is vital, and will help buoy spending supporting SMEs across the UK. The focus on increasing spending in local communities reflects the nation’s sentiment – we want to see our local areas, shops and high streets succeed. For UK SMEs, this will hopefully translate into renewed support from both government and through consumer spending.”

More help for household budgets needed as part of ‘economic emergency’ support

The Money Advice Trust, the charity that runs National Debtline and Business Debtline has responded to the Spending Review, calling for urgent action to address the household budget emergency facing millions.

Joanna Elson OBE, chief executive of the Money Advice Trust, the charity that runs National Debtline and Business Debtline, said: “The Chancellor today spoke of the ‘economic emergency’ facing the country – but millions of people are facing their own economic emergency in the coming months, as they struggle to meet day-to-day bills.

“Today’s announcement of additional support to help households that are least able to afford council tax is welcome and will go some way to support those most in need. With unemployment continuing to rise, however, we hope this will be joined by much more support – including extending the extra £20 a week increase in Universal Credit well beyond April.”

CPS responds to Government’s Spending Review

Responding to the Chancellor’s Spending Review for 2021-22, Robert Colvile, Director of the CPS, said: “Today’s spending review recognises the extraordinary scale of the Government’s fiscal response to the pandemic, but also the extraordinary and long-lasting economic damage that it has inflicted.

“It is right to prioritise jobs, health and public services now, rather than immediately closing the deficit, but also right to acknowledge the enormity of the challenges ahead. The temporary cut to international aid and the imposition of public sector pay restraint, both called for by the Centre for Policy Studies, recognised this changed environment – but the country is still committed to increasing spending on a shrunken tax base.

“The Chancellor’s announcements on infrastructure investment and levelling up were extremely welcome, echoing for example the CPS’s proposal for a National Infrastructure Bank. But ultimately it will be the private sector, not the public, which digs us out of this economic hole – so as the pandemic recedes we urge the Chancellor to embrace pro-growth, pro-enterprise stimulus measures, such as tax incentives to encourage businesses to hire and invest.”

Paradigm Protect launches Focus guides to individual providers

Paradigm Protect, the directly authorised protection and general insurance (GI) proposition – which is part of Paradigm Mortgage Services – has today launched a series of guides on working with individual providers called ‘Focus’.

Starting with guides covering The Exeter and UNUM, each concise document will give protection advisers a broad summary of the provider’s proposition, underwriting processes, claims statistics, support numbers, information about any value-added services they offer as well as registration and agency details.

Paradigm Protect will be producing further Focus guides for its panel providers over the coming months, and believe this will be a good asset for advisory firms to use when onboarding new staff members who need to get up to speed with the protection sector, or those who are looking to expand their knowledge in this area, as well as providing useful points of reference to any individuals already active in the protection space.

Paradigm Protect also recently announced an additional three webinars which have been added to its line-up of CPD webinars to take place before the year end.

These webinars will move away from the traditional emphasis on product and will instead look in greater detail at industry issues including vulnerable clients, the future of critical illness cover, opportunities within the general insurance market, and more.

Two of the three sessions will also involve presentations from Robert Sinclair, CEO of the Association of Intermediaries (AMI), who will discuss the results of its recent consumer and adviser survey, and how AMI is seeking to understand how protection fits in the mortgage journey and encourage advisers to rise to the ‘New Protection Challenge’.

Mike Allison, Head of Protection at Paradigm, commented: “These Focus guides have been designed to provide clear, concise information to our members about our provider panel, and can be used as a handy point of reference about key areas of their proposition, including what they do best, their core areas of focus, useful contact details and much more. We are delighted to be kicking this series off with The Exeter and UNUM, where we have captured the key aspects of their offerings in an easy to use guide. We will continue to add further guides for other providers on panel in the months ahead. These guides will also be useful in delivering unstructured insurance CPD and will sit within the Paradigm CPD Academy for easy access. For those advisers already active in the protection space, or those considering their next steps, these guides should act as a handy reminder or an excellent introduction to what providers can offer.”

Steve Bryan, Director of Distribution and Marketing at The Exeter, said: “The Focus provider guides are a simple way for advisers to keep informed and up to date on insurers’ protection products, while also working towards their CPD learning requirements. We hope The Exeter guide provides Paradigm members with all of the information they need when recommending our income protection and life cover products to their clients.”

Covid Payment Plans go live as charity urges people who need debt help to explore options

From today, people who have experienced a temporary reduced income due to the pandemic can enter into the new Covid Payment Plan from StepChange Debt Charity. This will enable them to make reduced payments on their borrowing for up to a year, providing time for them to get back on their feet and resume full payments once their financial situation has improved.

People have been able to register their interest and undertake an initial eligibility check for the past few weeks, but from today people can complete the entire application, approval and registration process and get the new plan set up. The first payments under the new plans will be taken and distributed to creditors in January. Every penny that people pay goes to their creditors – there are no set up or administration fees.

The new plan is designed for today’s unique circumstances. There are also many other options and solutions available for people facing debt and financial difficulty. It is important to determine the most appropriate option for individual circumstances. The new plan is very much aimed at people who expect their difficulties to be short-lived – recognising that many people face a great deal of uncertainty about their future income in the wake of the pandemic. If the Covid Payment Plan is not suitable, there are other options for people whose problems are more entrenched. If people enter into the Covid Payment Plan but their situation doesn’t improve as hoped, they will be able to change to a different, longer-term form of solution.

StepChange CEO Phil Andrew commented: “All debt advice charities are gearing up for a big increase in the number of people who are going to need help with debt that has built up due to the pandemic. While the new Covid Payment Plan won’t be right for everyone, it will specifically help those people who have a number of financial commitments but just need a bit of time to get back to normal payments.

“What everyone should know is that if you’re facing debt problems you don’t need to try to cope alone. Reputable debt advice charities will help you, free of charge. Even if this plan isn’t the right approach for you, various alternative solutions are available that may be suitable, depending on your circumstances.”

First signs emerge of a stamp duty holiday fuelled revival in property transactions

The latest research by estate agent comparison site, GetAgent.co.uk, has analysed current market health in the wake of the stamp duty holiday decision and how the overall market benefit is now starting to show where top-line transactions are concerned.

The latest transaction data shows that transactions across the UK were just -0.7% lower in September than this time last year. However, in England alone, there has been an uplift of 1% on an annual basis, the first time transaction levels have increased when compared to the same month in 2019.

Since the stamp duty holiday was announced in July, buyer activity has exploded boosting house prices along with it.

House Prices

GetAgent analysed the average house price across England each month from June and how it compared to the same month last year.

The data shows that in July house prices were 2% higher than July 2019. In August, house prices climbed a further 1.6% on a month to month basis and sat 3.4% higher than the previous year.

The latest house price data released yesterday by the Land Registry shows that in September there was yet further house price growth, with the average house price climbing to a huge 4.9% higher than the previous year.

Transactions

However, while house prices have increased, transactions had yet to return to the same levels seen a year ago, largely due to the length of time it takes to sell a home.

With the market having ground to a halt during lockdown, it’s no surprise that property transactions in June of this year sat some -29% lower than in 2019 at 83,860.

Even with the announcement of the stamp duty holiday in July, the lag of actually completing a sale meant that transactions again sat -21% lower than they did in July 2019 and were also down -22% in August when compared to the previous year.

However, the latest data shows that there were some 84,480 property transactions completed in September of this year. This is a 1.1% increase when compared to September 2019 providing the first signs that the property market in England is starting to accelerate back to good health.

There also been a notable 16% uplift in property transactions between August and September of this year, while in 2019 there was a drop of -10%.

On average, property transactions across England have increased at an average monthly rate of 13% since June compared to just 0.2% a month during the same time period last year.

Founder and CEO of GetAgent.co.uk, Colby Short, commented: “The latest market data provides the best proof yet that the market has rebounded from the depths of pandemic paralysis, fuelled by a huge increase in homebuyer demand as a result of the stamp duty holiday.

“It’s the first time we’ve seen transaction levels exceed that of a year ago on a monthly basis since the market reopened for business and it looks to be the tip of the iceberg.

“This is extremely positive news as while price growth provides a good indicator of market health, it’s actual transactions that tell the true story of what we’re seeing on the ground.

“With such overwhelming demand, the industry has struggled to cope causing huge backlogs of sales waiting to complete. However, as we continue to work tirelessly to clear this backlog, transaction numbers should continue to climb even higher over the next few months.”

Public sector pay freeze could save up to £23 billion by 2023

Freezing public sector pay for the next three years could save a cumulative £23 billion, according to leading centre-right think tank, the Centre for Policy Studies.

A new report by the think tank argues that since the start of the pandemic, private sector workers have suffered far more than those in the public sector, and makes the case for public sector pay restraint over the next three years to ensure the labour market isn’t unfairly weighted towards the public sector.

The public sector currently employs roughly 5.5 million workers, at a total cost of around £190 billion a year, and this could increase substantially over the next few years unless the government exercises pay restraint.

‘Public Sector Pay: The Case for Restraint’ suggests that if pay were to be frozen across the public sector, the Government could save £3.8bn in year 1, £7.7bn in year 2 and £11.6bn in year 3. If NHS staff were exempt from the freeze, to account for their hard work and sacrifices during this pandemic, the Government could save a cumulative £15.3 billion over the same period.

The paper also sets out a more generous approach, which would see pay increasing by 1% each year for three years, which could save £11.7 billion over that period – or £7.7 billion if a higher rate were still granted to healthcare workers.

Those employees who benefit from incremental pay rises would still see their pay increase if they move up their pay band.

The Government placed a cap on public sector pay in 2012 to ensure those in the private sector were not left behind following the financial crisis of 2008/09, however this cap was lifted in 2018 and the pandemic risks creating the same disparity. The result being that public sector advantages over the private sector, in terms of higher pay, greater job security and significantly better pension provision, will increase further still.

Pension provision, for example, is vastly more generous in the public sector, with 86% of public sector workers receiving employer pension contributions worth 10% of earnings or more, compared to just 10% of private sector workers.

The CPS is concerned that the financial impact of the coronavirus could affect private sector workers in a similar way to the previous recession, making it necessary and fiscally responsible to adjust pay policy in the public sector to ensure a fair and efficient labour market.

Robert Colvile, Director of the CPS, said: “The economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has been severe, but the pain has not been shared equally. Some businesses are folding under the strain, public finances have been decimated, while the public sector has escaped relatively unscathed.

“Healthcare workers aside, it is difficult to justify generous pay rises in the public sector when private sector wages are actually falling. At the same time, there is a need to control public spending and reduce the structural deficit which the pandemic is likely to have opened up.

“The Chancellor should redress this imbalance by showing restraint when it comes to pay and pensions in the public sector.”