ASIC gives verdict on low-doc lenders

The corporate watchdog has released the findings of its review of low-doc home loans.

The ASIC review, which follows the introduction of responsible lending laws in 2010, found lenders have tightened their lending practices.

Before the introduction of responsible lending laws in 2010, some lenders did not verify a borrower’s financial situation for ‘low-doc’ loans, according to ASIC.

“Instead, lenders often simply relied on a statement from the borrower that they could meet their repayments,” it said.

“This led, in some cases, to borrowers not being able to pay back the loan, or only being able to do so by selling their home.”

ASIC’s review of 12 lenders found that they had tightened their low-doc lending practices since the introduction of the responsible lending laws.

ASIC found that lenders are providing low-doc loans to a narrower range of borrowers, and that low-doc loans are only being offered to the self-employed or those who do not have a readily verifiable income, rather than borrowers with a regular income stream that can be readily verified by documents such as payslips.

Lenders are also obtaining additional information to verify a self-employed borrower’s income, such as business bank account statements and/or letters from accountants, the ASIC review found.

Additional processes are now in place to ensure the reliability of information provided by mortgage brokers, the review found.

“This tightening of lending standards since the introduction of the responsible lending laws is also reflected in Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) statistics indicating a significant decline in the number of low-doc loans,” ASIC said.

“APRA statistics indicate that since commencement of the National Consumer Credit Protection Act 2009 in 2010, low-doc loans have declined from 6.4 per cent of new residential loans by ADIs to 0.7 per cent of new residential loans by ADIs,” it said.

While lending practices have improved across the industry, ASIC identified a number of compliance risks, including poor record-keeping, lenders relying solely on benchmark living expense figures rather than taking separate steps to enquire into borrowers’ actual living expenses, and lenders performing limited verification of borrowers’ ongoing fixed expenses for other loans they may have.

“ASIC, along with other regulators, has a strong interest in home lending practices,” ASIC deputy chairman Peter Kell said.

“Our review shows lenders have lifted their game since the introduction of responsible lending laws.

‘However, industry must not be complacent,” he said.

“Compliance with responsible lending laws is a key focus for ASIC and we will take appropriate enforcement action where conduct falls short.”

ASIC’s report identifies compliance risks that are relevant to credit licensees more generally, including other lenders, mortgage brokers and lessors, and also outlines how credit licensees can reduce their risk of non-compliance.

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