Renters (Reform) Bill statement

“After years of delay the Renters (Reform) Bill has finally been published, but it contains no surprises for the industry as the measures were already included in the 2022 Fairer Private Rented Sector white paper.

“While the bill appears to be light on specific details, the government has announced that more information about the proposals will be outlined in another white paper. Unfortunately, more delays will extend the holding pattern the private rented sector currently finds itself in. The industry will not be able to press ahead with reform until the government clarifies when it will deliver on changes to evictions, applying decent home standards, introducing a new ombudsman, and a landlord portal.

“We trust the government will consult the wealth of experience and knowledge held by landlords, agents, tenants and other stakeholders to ensure the Renters (Reform) Bill delivers to the benefit of all parties.”

Neil Cobbold, Managing Director, PayProp UK

UK Treasury Committee calls for crypto trading to be regulated as gambling – comments

Further to the news that the UK Treasury Committee has today called for consumer trading in unbacked crypto to be regulated as gambling due to the significant financial risk posed to consumers.

Kate Gee, Counsel at Signature Litigation commented: “This report reflects the growing desire – and urgency – to regulate the crypto sector and to protect investors and businesses with exposure to crypto and other digital assets. However, caution must be taken when trying to shoehorn crypto assets into any existing regulatory framework – while there may be similarities between crypto and, as suggested here, gambling, the two sectors are not the same.

“Regulation of crypto assets is overdue, and in its absence, the risks involved are likely only to increase. Europe has taken steps to regulate the sector, and the UK government taking an approach that is informed, comprehensive and co-ordinated (across jurisdictions) will be welcome and most effective – drawing on its experience of regulating financial services and other relevant sectors, including gambling.”

Labour market data shows signs of downturn

Commenting on the Office for National Statistics’ latest labour market data, Professor Len Shackleton, Labour Market Expert at free market think tank the Institute of Economic Affairs, said: “These labour market data could be the harbinger of a downturn – although we must always be careful in extrapolating from a single month’s figures.

“Unemployment is up marginally to 3.9 per cent, driven by more people in longer-term unemployment. Payrolled employees (i.e. excluding the self-employed, whose numbers appear to be rising again) have fallen by 136,000 in April, the first fall in over two years. Vacancies have fallen for the tenth consecutive month.

“There has been a slight drop in inactivity as more young people and over-65s are in employment, but there has also been a further rise in the long-term sick (possibly due in part to NHS treatment delays associated with industrial action). Days lost to strikes across the economy rose to well over half a million in March, a rate not seen since the 1980s.

“Pay has continued to rise significantly in nominal terms, with the private sector again outstripping the public sector, although both experienced real-terms pay cuts.  There are also some worrying trends below the surface: public sector employment as a share of total employment continues to rise, while women’s employment slipped back compared to men’s. And any employment growth seems to be associated with non-UK nationals, whose numbers in work rose by over 370,000 since the end of last year. Meanwhile, far too many working-age Brits sit it out on the touchline.”

Sigma Connected recognised as a top UK employer by The Sunday Times

Business outsourcing provider Sigma Connected has been named as one of the UK’s top employers in this year’s prestigious The Sunday Times Best Places to Work survey.

Sigma Connected, which provides customer contact services for the utilities, financial, telecommunications and retail sectors, has been accredited in this year’s list within the Best Big Company category.

The accreditation, which Sigma has received for the first time of entering, is based on the scores and feedback provided by the company’s 1,200 UK-based employees. It saw the average happiness at Sigma being placed at 78%, with 80% of people feeling job satisfaction.

Gary Gilburd, chief executive at Sigma Connected said: “This is one of our proudest moments to be recognised on a national scale for our culture, our values and how we treat our employees.

“The Sunday Times survey is widely respected but also hugely important as it is based on comments from our employees across a range of areas. It shows that not only are we moving in the right direction, but we are creating loyalty because people love that they can build a career with us, but also be treated well personally and professionally.

“As a business we have seen many successes but for us, this is on a different level, not forgetting that we are placed alongside many hugely respected and well-known national brands, including some of our clients.”

Mike Harfield, chief operating officer at Sigma Connected added: “We are blown away by how highly regarded our business is by our employees.

“In just over a decade we have grown extensively but also managed to keep an all-important family feel at the heart of the business. That has driven a culture of support and respect which has been key in us achieving this tremendous milestone.

“It’s important that we continue doing everything we can to keep our employees front and centre in all our thinking. That also means continuing with our training programmes and the host of other development opportunities people have when they join the Sigma Connected family.

“To be the only BPO on The Sunday Times list is, without a doubt, a really special moment.”

Hope Capital thanked for backing local football team

Liverpool-based bridging lender, Hope Capital are honouring their roots in the local community as they announce sponsorship of local football program, Sefton Schoolgirls.

The lender has agreed to sponsor the new kit to commemorate their upcoming games, which will be instrumental in supporting the team, especially as they head to Goodison Park on 16th May to play Wirral Schoolgirls in the Everton Trophy. On the day, Sefton Schoolgirls will also be presented with a trophy to celebrate winning their league this season.

Sefton Schoolgirls is run by Karl Lysaght and comprises of girls’ representative teams ranging from Under 11 to Under 16. With a focus on creating equal opportunities for local, talented female footballers, the sports program is growing rapidly in popularity in the local area, with the Under 14 team being crowned as champions in the National Cup at the beginning of May, following their win over East Riding.

Jonathan Sealey, CEO at Hope Capital, said: “Supporting local talent and businesses is at the heart of what we do. What makes this even more special to us, is our Head of Underwriting’s daughter, Charlotte, plays for the team, so it’s fantastic we can support a community program while do something meaningful for a member of the team as well.

“We are very excited to back Sefton Schoolgirls and wish them all the luck in the world ahead of their final against Wirral Schoolgirls in a few days. Good luck girls!”

As well as supporting Sefton Schoolgirls, Hope Capital works with various local businesses and individuals to give back to the community. This includes local sporting stars such as MMA Fighter, Nathan Fletcher, long running support of the Sunshine Group breast cancer charity, as well as working with local food and anti-poverty charities, such as The Whitechapel Centre.

Karl Lysaght, Manager at Sefton Schoolgirls, added: “We are extremely grateful to Hope Capital for the generosity they’ve shown to our representative program.  We were delighted when they agreed to sponsor the team and are proud to work with a company whose values align to ours, are passionate about inspiring girls and providing opportunities for them to play.”

43% of homebuyers think home information packs should be mandatory

Digital home information pack provider, Moverly, has found that while just 50% of recent homebuyers have heard of home information packs, 69% believe it would have made the experience of purchasing a property easier had their seller had one.

Home information packs, originally introduced under the Housing Act 2004 and subsequently scrapped by the coalition government in 2010, provide a seller’s essential information and documentation to a buyer during the property purchasing process, such as their EPC, title documents and local authority searches. Despite their chequered political history, the packs have seen a resurgence in recent times as their online, digital versions address many of the shortcomings of the original initiative.

This proactive approach to selling is thought to dramatically reduce completion times, as well as reducing the chance of a sale collapsing and mandatory digital HIPs could soon be re-introduced as part of government plans. This would be welcome relief for a property industry which continues to struggle with transaction fall-through rates of over 30% and average times from offer to completion of 150 days.

A survey of homebuyers to have purchased within the last year, commissioned by Moverly, found that 44% of homebuyers encountered difficulties when purchasing their last home, with getting a mortgage, finding the right property, challenges with their seller and chain delays and collapses amongst the most common.

However, just 50% stated they had previously heard of home information packs and 69% believe that, had their seller had one sorted in advance, it would have made the process of purchasing a property easier.

A further 74% believe that home information packs are worthwhile as they provide useful information to buyers, with 50% going as far as stating that they would be more likely to purchase a home if the seller had a pre-prepared home information pack.

Finally, 43% believe that home information packs should be made mandatory for all property sales as they provide much needed information, bring a greater degree of transparency and show a higher level of commitment from sellers entering the market.

Moverly co-founder Ed Molyneux, commented: “While controversial in their original form, the property industry has come a long way since the first home information packs were introduced and then scrapped.

“The ability to compile and share information digitally has made it far easier to create a worthwhile HIP that can add real value to the transaction process, reducing transaction times and the threat of a sale collapsing.

“For buyers, in particular, the property purchasing process can be a daunting one and reintroducing home information packs will help dramatically reduce the time, effort and anxiety of purchasing a home. So it’s hardly surprising that so many believe they are not only helpful, but should be a mandatory requirement.”

Zivver Recognised in Annual CyberTech100 List of Innovative Companies for Financial Services

Secure digital communications specialist Zivver has been named as one of the most innovative companies in the annual CyberTech100 list from research firm Fintech Global.

In a market that is evolving due to the digital challenges being increasingly posed by companies and individuals alike, the CyberTech sector is proving to be an area of considerable future growth. Between 2023 and 2030, the industry is predicted to grow a CAGR of 13.8% from $172.3bn to $424.9bn.

With all this taken into consideration, the 100 CyberTech firms featured this year include some of the widest and most diverse businesses in the sector. A long list of over 1,000 firms was produced by FinTech Global, which a panel of analysts and industry experts used to vote on the finalists.

Zivver made the fourth annual CyberTech100 list based on its innovative use of smart technology to solve a significant industry problem. The company, which serves over 7,000 customers globally, applies a combination of machine learning and advanced encryption to reduce the leading cause of data leaks.

FinTech Global director Richard Sachar said, “With the average cost of data breaches being in the millions, it is critical firms look for the solutions that can guarantee their protection, particularly as the tough economic climate puts pressure on finances. This year’s CyberTech100 list arms companies with the necessary information to find the industry change-makers who are providing companies with the opportunity to be well protected against these threats.”

Rick Goud, CIO and Founder at Zivver said: “At Zivver our aim is to make doing the right and secure thing effortless for people, reducing data leaks through seamless integration with existing email solutions and empowering secure digital communications through smart technology. Our place on the CyberTech100 list is evidence of our reputation in the highly regulated financial services industry, where the potential losses from a data leak could be substantial.”

Conveyancing and remortgage demand sees ONP Solicitors make the move to expand its Leeds operation

ONP Solicitors is expanding its Leeds operation to meet a rising demand for its conveyancing and remortgage services and the Yorkshire area being a hub of Conveyancing talent.

The Stockport-based firm opened its Leeds base as a satellite office in May last year but has grown organically to accommodate a team of over 30 Case Managers at the start of 2023. Now, the company wants to accelerate this growth, increasing demand for its technology-led, innovative and customer focussed conveyancing service that should see an office where over 100 conveyancers are based.

The expansion will be led by Craig Underwood, Chief Operating Officer and Mark Tosetti, Group Partnership Director, both veterans of the conveyancing market, and both well acquainted with Leeds’ legal landscape having joined from Optima Legal at the end of 2022.

The firm’s CEO, Nick Hale commented: “Our goal is to continue our growth in a sustainable and manageable way, putting people at the heart of our business.

“Under the leadership of Craig and Mark, we aim to continue to train and develop an experienced team in the conveyancing industry that can provide the best possible customer outcomes. We will continue to innovate and utilise cutting-edge technology to benefit both customers and our partners.

“Our goal is to develop a culture where everyone in the business is focused on the customer experience – from instruction to completion.”

ONP Solicitors’ expansion in Leeds is a significant milestone in the firm’s growth journey. The Leeds office now has 34 colleagues who specialise in the remortgaging market. However, within the expansion strategy, ONP plans to hire experienced sale and purchase colleagues to complement the existing team and give the firm a hybrid skillset in the region. In parallel, ONP Solicitors is seeking people new to the sector, looking to train and develop and train talent for the future in Leeds and other existing locations.

“With Mark steering the partnership strategy of the company, the goal is to be the leading technology enabled legal services business, having brilliant people that transform the client experience for conveyancing of remortgages and sale & purchase transactions, accessing talent in the Yorkshire area is a key enabler to this goal.”

Craig Underwood commented: “Our expansion in Leeds comes with a commitment to provide the best possible service to our clients.

“With a strong focus on people, technology, and a transformative attitude, ONP is poised to become one of the leading providers of conveyancing services in the UK.”

Paradigm launch Fair Value Assessments Hub with links to Product Manufacturers’ Documentation

Paradigm, the mortgage, protection and compliance services proposition, has today launched a new hub to house links to product manufacturers’ fair value assessment documentation.

From the 30th April, as part of their new responsibilities under the FCA’s Consumer Duty measures, all product manufacturers of regulated products were required to provide a fair value assessment of their products.

The fair value assessment documents have to be accessed by advisers and assessed by each individual firm in order to review whether they believe the products offer fair value to their customers.. Firms can then use these documents when assessing the fair value of their own service propositions.

The statements produced by the manufacturers should help advisers to: understand the characteristics of the products; understand the identified target market; consider the needs, characteristics and objectives of any customers who may potentially be vulnerable; identify the intended distribution strategy; and ensure the product will be distributed in accordance with the target market.

Paradigm said this will save advisers valuable time to be able to quickly access links to documents in one place, rather than visiting each individual manufacturer website, and Paradigm has also split the links by sector covering mortgages, equity release, protection, investments and pensions.

The collation of all the fair value assessment documentation  sits within Paradigm’s Consumer Duty Support hub which provides a host of information and resources, including a Consumer Duty eBook guide for financial services firms.

Each face-to-face event Paradigm is holding ahead of the July deadline will also specifically cover the Consumer Duty with those who attend able to ask questions around their own individual plans as well as any other matters related to the implementation of the Consumer Duty.

Paradigm’s team of consultants offer bespoke consultancy support and guidance on the Consumer Duty tailored to individual firms’ requirements and are adept at preparing firms for regulatory changes.

Christine Newell, Mortgage Technical Director at Paradigm, commented: “Rather than having to visit every single product manufacturer’s website and search for their fair value assessment documentation, we have created this  link hub which is split by sector, and should ease the process for advisers and firms, in what is a  requirement under Consumer Duty.

“Product manufacturers are providing Paradigm with these links and advisory firms should now be making use of these documents in order to undertake the reviews which will help them meet their Consumer Duty obligations.

“It is another process step change for advisers but one that, we at Paradigm, are aiming to make as easy as possible, with all documentation accessible from one, rather than multiple, website pages.

“We are just a few months away from the official start of the Consumer Duty rules, but as firms can see, the requirements need to be met on an ongoing basis. At Paradigm we’re here to support advisory businesses and we would urge anyone looking for further help, advice or guidance to contact us.”

Broker’s criteria searching in April throws up changes across the board

Knowledge Bank’s monthly criteria index has revealed a host of changes in broker’s criteria searches as they try to place their clients’ cases with lenders.  As the UK’s largest database of mortgage lending criteria, Knowledge Bank tracks all the most common searches performed by brokers as they look to place a client’s case.

In the Residential category brokers searching for lenders who will accept ‘Late or Missed Payments’ was the third most popular search and the criteria ‘Interest Only’ was in third place, back in the top five after a month’s absence. The popularity of these two searches suggests that the tightening of household budgets is continuing, and standard residential borrowers’ circumstances are changing and not for the better.

Searches in the Equity Release category after a clean sweep of changes last month were more settled in April although the search for the ‘Remaining Term of a Leasehold’ and ‘Early Repayment Fees’ both rose in popularity during the month. This suggests that we are still in a period of financial uncertainty and borrowers are mindful of any penalties should rates fall and they wish to switch away from their current deal.

Entering the top five searches in the Self-Build sector was ‘Non-Standard Construction’ which suggests innovation in building materials used for new properties and in fourth place was brokers looking for Self-Build lenders who will ‘Lend in Scotland’.

Other changes of note come in the Bridging sector with searches for lenders accepting ‘Commercial Property’ entering the top five for the first time since January and in Commercial product sourcing as brokers search for ‘Mixed Use Properties’ was the third most popular search and in the top five for the first time in four months.

Knowledge Bank CEO Nicola Firth said, “This relentless change demonstrates once again that brokers cannot sit on their laurels and that if it’s not lenders changing criteria daily then it’s their clients’ profiles that are changing.

“One of the consequences of a volatile financial landscape is that household circumstances change as borrowers are hit with cost-of-living increases and perhaps savings begin to run out. As a result, they are approaching brokers with more complex needs and relying on them to find a lender who will accept them as a borrower. Mortgage rates tend to dominate the headlines but it’s all too easy to forget that the borrowers must qualify for the rate in the first place.

“During the first quarter of 2023 there were over 280,000 searches on Knowledge Bank and so the role of the mortgage broker has never been more important, and technology is playing a pivotal role in helping brokers find a home for their client’s loans.”