Revealed: UK areas worst affected by Japanese knotweed
Incidents have been marked on a heatmap created by Environet, a company that specialises in the removal of the destructive and invasive plant.
The worst affected areas are Bristol, Bolton, London and South Wales, according to the map.
Anyone can report a sighting of the plant on the map, which is then verified by Environet.
Property professionals, including mortgage brokers, developers, surveyors, conveyancing solicitors and estate agents have been encouraged to use the map to help assess the level of risk posed to a property or site.
Japanese knotweed is notoriously difficult to treat and can impact a property’s value.
Users enter a postcode into the ‘Exposed’ tool to find out the number of reported knotweed sightings nearby.
It comes after recent conveyancing changes placed greater emphasis on buyers to find out about a property’s knotweed risk.
Nic Seal, founder and managing director of Environet, said: “We’ve had an incredible response to the launch of Exposed, with over 100,000 visits during the first year and 93,000 postcode searches.
“This just goes to show the thirst for information about Japanese knotweed and the need for credible resources to help property professionals and their clients assess risk during the buying and selling process.
“High risk results should always prompt further investigation with an on-site Japanese knotweed survey, in order to give the buyer as much certainty as possible.”
Senior politicians back calls for review of FCA boss Bailey
Shadow chancellor John McDonnell and chair of the Brexit Party Richard Tice are among those throwing support behind a damning report into the FCA under Bailey (pictured).
Conservative MP for Thirsk and Malton Kevin Hollinrake and former Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable are also critical of Bailey’s role while at the FCA.
Bailey has been head of the FCA since 2016 and is due to succeed Mark Carney in the top job at the Bank of England next month.
The True and Fair campaign group, led by Gina Miller, claims the last four years, while Bailey has been at the helm of the FCA, “have seen a multiple pile-up of mis-selling scandals and incidents of regulatory failure”.
The collapse of peer-to-peer lender Lendy and Neil Woodford’s investment funds are among the cases referenced in a report by True and Fair.
The continued fallout from HBOS and Lloyds Banking Group failings during the financial crisis are also levelled as criticism towards Bailey.
Bailey’s FCA time ‘a disaster’
In a statement McDonnell said: “This report reinforces that we were right to call on the last chancellor on several occasions to postpone the installation of Andrew Bailey in office as governor until there had been an independent review of his role at the FCA.
“This report is pretty damning and confirms Labour’s proposal last year for a major reform of our overall regulatory system. Nothing short would risk further rip offs of honest investors.”
Writing on twitter, Tice said: “Delighted to agree with Gina Miller, who demands review of Andrew Bailey as Bank of England governor. His time at FCA was a disaster. No reward for failure.”
In the report, Gina and Alan Miller wrote: “The authors believe the evidence amassed in this report clearly demonstrates the requirement for an urgent review of Mr Bailey’s appointment, and whether he satisfies the mandatory requirements or several of the supplementary requirements for the appointment to governor of the Bank of England.
“Without such a review there is a serious threat to the reputation and perceived independence of the Bank of England – both nationally and internationally.
“These same concerns also relate to the appointment of Mr Bailey’s successor as chief executive officer of the FCA, in terms of the need for a candidate with unimpeachable pro-consumer credentials, and a track record of achieving positive outcomes in the best interests of consumers in the retail financial services, banking and insurance sectors.”
FCA defends Bailey
In response to the report, the FCA issued a strongly worded statement dismissing the report.
A spokesman said: “‘We utterly reject these claims which contain numerous inaccuracies and are made with little understanding of the role of the FCA.
“We have disagreed with the Millers on numerous issues relating to the investment industry, and our oversight of it, over recent years and we note their previous calls on Andrew to resign. This is just another example.
“In fact through FCA interventions millions of people have benefited including the most vulnerable in society.
“This includes fundamentally reforming the consumer credit market by capping the costs of payday lending and rent-to-own, making the biggest changes to overdrafts in a generation and providing support for those in long-term credit card debt.
“We hold firms to account and where we find failures we take action, with the FCA fining firms nearly £5bn since 2013 and tens of billions of pounds being returned to customers through redress schemes.”
Christopher Woolard has been appointed interim chief executive of the FCA when Bailey departs.
He is currently the regulator’s executive director of strategy and competition.
Jackie Bennett steps down as UK Finance mortgage director
Bennett is to pursue other interests, as well as spending more time with her family, the trade body said.
She is leaving the position at the beginning of March but will remain as a part time senior adviser to oversee the transition and “provide strategic input on mortgages and housing”.
A search is underway for her replacement, UK Finance confirmed.
Prior to joining UK Finance, Bennett was deputy head of compliance at The Northview Group.
She replaced Paul Smee, who retired as director general of the Council of Mortgage Lenders (CML) in its merger with UK Finance.
Bennett had also worked at the CML between 2001 and 2014, including a 10-year stint as head of policy.
In 2010, she was awarded an OBE for services to the financial services industry in the Queen’s birthday honours list.
In an interview with Mortgage Solutions, just 10 months into her role last year, Bennett likened the current regulatory landscape to “air traffic control” with a “plethora of initiatives” coming from watchdogs, including the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) and the Prudential Regulation Authority (PRA).
Warning for landlords over new Capital Gains Tax rules
Anyone selling a residential property in the UK after April 6 must report it to HMRC and pay any tax due within the far shorter deadline of 30 days.
Those who fail to let the taxman know about any liabilities within this time face a financial penalty on top of paying interest on what is owed.
It’s feared many sellers, such as landlords, could be caught out.
Under current rules, sellers are given until 31 January (or 31 December in the real time tool) in which the gains relate to – for example, someone who sold on 1 April 2014 would not have to report until 31 January ber 2015.
CGT affects properties that have not been used as the owner’s main home, including holiday homes, rental properties and properties that have been inherited.
HMRC is launching a new online service that will allow owners to report and pay any tax owed.
For higher rate payers CGT amounts to 28 per cent of gains on residential property, while basic rate taxpayers pay 18 per cent.
Further changes that will take effect from 6 April are;
- Lettings Relief will be reformed so that it only applies where an owner is in shared occupancy with a tenant;
- The final period exemption will be reduced from 18 months to nine months to better target the exemption at owner-occupiers with one main dwelling. The special rules that give those with a disability, and those in care, an exemption of 36 months will not change.
FCA admits data breach
In some cases, the address, telephone numbers or other personal information related to the complainants was put on the website in November 2019.
The information was published in a response to a Freedom of Information Act request, which related to the number and nature of new complaints made against the FCA and handled by the complaints team between 2 January 2018 and 17 July 2019.
The watchdog said in most instances, only the name of the person making the complaint was made public.
But the FCA is now contacting those who had further details published to apologise and advise on the extent of information made available.
No financial, payment card, passport or other identity information were included.
In a statement issued today the watchdog said it had only recently been made aware of the data breach.
The regulator added: “As soon as we became aware of this, we removed the relevant data from our website.
“We have undertaken a full review to identify the extent of any information that may have been accessible.
“Our primary concern is to ensure the protection and safeguarding of individuals who may be identifiable from the data…
“We have taken immediate action to ensure this cannot happen again. We have referred the matter to the Information Commissioner’s Office.”
Kensington launches mortgage with £1k cashback for home energy improvements
Homeowners will be paid up to £1,000 through the Eko cashback mortgage if they increase their energy rating by 10 SAP points.
This is the equivalent of insulating a hot water cylinder, installing low energy lighting or putting in solar panels or loft insulation.
The change will need to be evidenced on the property’s Energy Performance Certificate (EPC).
Any borrower can apply for the mortgage, which starts at a rate of 3.04 per cent at 75 per cent loan to value.
The mortgage also comes with free valuations and free legal advice on remortgages.
Mark Arnold, chief executive officer at Kensington Mortgages (pictured), said: “Many people are becoming increasingly conscious of their carbon footprint and want to reduce it.
“So making energy efficiency improvements in your home is a no-brainer – you can help combat climate change and save on your bills at the same time.
“With Kensington’s new Eko mortgage you can also be rewarded in the form of cashback. We are particularly excited about this new product because unlike other green initiatives, it is targeted at efficiency improvements to pre-existing properties, rather than focusing on investment in new builds, offering the opportunity to help combat climate change to a much broader set of borrowers.”
Kevin Roberts, director at Legal & General Mortgage Club, added that it was a positive step that would help to increase choice for consumers interested in green mortgage products.
“Like all industries, the housing and mortgage markets must react to the threat of climate change and the importance of reducing carbon emissions,” he said.
“Renovating existing housing stock is a crucial part of this mission and that means incentivising consumers who want to improve the energy efficiency of older homes.”
Seven in 10 borrowers use broker for remortgage – LMS
Around 67 per cent of consumers took advice during their remortgage, research by conveyancing panel LMS showed.
Remortgage volumes edged up by 4.2 per cent year-on-year, with the increase coming as borrowers increasingly opt for five-year fixed-rates.
Nearly half of remortgages were for five-year deals, following similar behaviours seen in 2018.
Borrowers saved an average £181.42 on monthly mortgage payments after remortgaging.
The average remortgage loan was for £174,711.
However, in London and the South East borrowers were taking out almost double at £276,510.
Nick Chadbourne, chief executive of LMS (pictured), said: “It’s uncertain how the remortgage market will evolve as we move into 2020.
“Product expiries for the year look set to mirror 2019, so we can expect similar volumes throughout 2020, but we may see a flat H1 as the home moving market picks up.
“Product choices might change too, as borrowers could opt for shorter-term fixes as fears of a base rate increase subside.
“The growth in product transfer rates will also be a key factor, so it’ll be interesting to see how newer entrants shape their offerings to compete – ERC-free products, the removal of loan to value bandings, and an increase in digital-only products are all possible.”
Buyers of shoddy new homes given fresh protection with industry ombudsman
Housebuilders will be obliged to join the ombudsman so all homebuyers can get issues resolved.
Developers will be forced to pay compensation for substandard finishes on homes, under the new rules announced by housing secretary Robert Jenrick today.
The ombudsman will also have the power to ban rogue developers and order builders to carry out remedial work.
Buyers currently face long waits, as well as costly court cases, to sort problems with their new homes.
But under the ombudsman, consumers will be able to complain about a range of issues from sloppy brickwork to faulty wiring and get a faster outcome.
The independent ombudsman is to be enforced into law as soon as possible, Jenrick added.
At the same time, new measures have been confirmed to make sure all homes sold under the future Help to Buy scheme meet higher standards.
Jenrick said: “It’s completely unacceptable that so many people struggle to get answers when they find issues with their dream new home.
“That’s why the ombudsman will stop rogue developers getting away with shoddy building work and raise the game of housebuilders across the sector.
“Homebuyers will be able to access help when they need it, so disputes can be resolved faster and people can get the compensation they deserve.”
Earlier this month, brokers told Mortgage Solutions they believed the new build sales market needed regulatory or government intervention to solve some of the problems they were witnessing.
Countrywide and LSL in merger talks
The two estate agent groups confirmed ongoing talks in statements to the stock exchange this morning.
LSL’s financial services brands also include the network Primis and club The Mortgage Alliance (TMA).
A deal raises the prospect of significant job cuts if it were to go ahead.
However, both companies stressed: “At this stage, there can be no certainty that any offer will ultimately be made for Countrywide.”
And added that “a further announcement will be made when appropriate”.
Countrywide is one of Britain’s biggest estate agencies but has struggled in recent years with debts and a tough trading environment.
It described 2018 as a “year of reset”, after a loss after tax of £218.2m despite it being a record year for mortgage business.
Countrywide was also fined twice during 2019 for money handling issues.
HMRC fined it £215,000 for failing to adhere to money laundering regulations, while the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors fined it £100,000 for mishandling £10m of client money.
Countrywide also agreed the sale of its Lambert Smith Hampton brand for £38m in November.
However it this has yet to be completed as the prospective buyer John Bengt Moeller has been unable to provide the cash for the deal.
LSL last year closed 124 estate agent branches of its Your Move and Reed Rains brands.
The group also owns Marsh & Parsons and LSLi Estate Agency.
Openwork recruits record number of advisers
The firm said 2019 was a record year for new recruits, following a bumper 2018 when 508 new advisers joined.
There are now more than 3,900 financial advisers operating under Openwork across the UK.
The growth in advisers comes as Tracey Saunders joins the company as regional recruitment manager.
She was previously regional director at Quilter and will report to Stephen Wildgoose, recruitment and growth director.
John Cupis, Openwork mortgage director, said: “The record recruitment figures highlight the strength of Openwork’s proposition and quality of service, as well as our reputation as a progressive, profitable, and well managed network.
“It is a particularly exciting time for Openwork, and I would like to extend a very warm welcome to Tracey who along with Stephen will play a critical role in helping us achieve our recruitment ambitions as we continue to grow as a business.”
Saunders added: “I am delighted to have joined Openwork and look forward to continuing the success of the last few years.”