Countrywide mortgage advisers suspended for fraud
Journalists from Channel 4’s Dispatches programme secretly filmed Countrywide staff agreeing to submit mortgage applications from aspiring borrowers who could not prove their income, according to The Sunday Times.
The advisers offered potential homebuyers buy-to-let mortgages, which do not always require proof of income as the amount of money offered is calculated according to the rental value of the property. These loans are not designed for buyers of their own homes.
According to the newspaper, an anonymous whistleblower from one of the UK’s largest estate agents told Dispatches that mortgage advisers were willing to break the rules – effectively committing fraud – because they were under extreme pressure to hit targets in order to earn their commission. The whistleblower said:
“Some consultants I knew, if they weren’t able to get a residential mortgage, would not directly say [that] to the client but they would imply that there’s an option of a buy-to-let mortgage that doesn’t need a minimum income.”
According to the newspaper an undercover reporter, posing as a potential homebuyer who had been travelling and had scant details of earnings to prove his income, visited Countrywide-owned Abbots estate agents in Essex. He told the adviser he could afford the repayments on a £300,000 mortgage but couldn’t verify his income, and was offered a buy-to-let deal.
The adviser said: “What I need to say on the application is that you won’t be living there, it will be to rent out, which obviously will be a bit of a fib, but it’s just kind of bending the rules a little bit.”
A second adviser at another branch of Abbotts offered another undercover reporter a buy-to-let mortgage having been told that she had no employment history. The adviser said it was ‘ a bit naughty’ , adding:
“There’s no-one comes knocking at your door but I have to obviously make you aware it’s a buy-to-let mortgage and that’s the only way you could get it on your income.”
Countrywide said the advisers caught on camera had been suspended pending a formal investigation. It added:
“We do not condone such actions and take these matters very seriously. We have already discussed how we can strengthen our procedures.”
The programme, The Property Market Undercover: Dispatches, will be broadcast tonight on Channel 4