Victory on Post Office ‘no island mortgages’ rule

The Post Office on Iona, one of the islands still left out after the rule change. Photo: www.flickr.com/freddieh/.
The Post Office on Iona, one of the islands still left out after the rule change.
Photo: www.flickr.com/freddieh.
There’s good news for many island housebuyers today as the Post Office announce that they will offer mortgages on many of Scotland’s larger islands, just two weeks after Jean first raised the issue.

The Post Office had previously refused mortgages for properties on all islands except Skye. But after Jean wrote to Chief Executive Paula Vennells, they have agreed to accept housebuyers on Bute, Lewis and Harris, Mainland Orkney, Mainland Shetland, Arran, Mull and Islay.

Jean Urquhart was alerted to the problem by a constituent on the Shetland Mainland, who will be one of those now eligible for a Post Office mortgage for the first time.

But many smaller islands remain excluded, and Jean has vowed to fight on.

Jean said:

“We desperately need alternatives to the big banks, and Post Office financial services could play a big role in that. It’s great news that many islanders will now have that greater choice.

“But many islanders are still excluded by the new rules, from Uist to Unst, from Great Cumbrae to Papa Westray. I’ll keep pushing to persuade the Post Office to stick to its roots as a truly universal service.

“I first raised this issue only two weeks ago, and the Post Office have listened and responded quickly. They’ve shown they are willing to engage, and I understand they are keeping their island mortgage rules under review. So I would urge those islanders who are still excluded to contact the Post Office and tell them the demand is there.

“The islands continue to be discriminated against in everything from delivery charges to LPG prices. This good news just makes me more determined to keep fighting for a fair deal for island consumers.”

The shift in policy was confirmed in a letter from the Post Office yesterday. The spokesman wrote:

“Dear Ms Urquhart

“Thank you for your letter of 27 February to our Chief Executive, Paula Vennells, regarding the availability of our mortgage products. Further to our response of 5 March where we said that we were looking into this matter we are now in a position to provide you with an update on this.

“I can confirm that following our review, and in response to customer demand, the wide range of Post Office mortgage products will now be available to customers in Skye, Bute, Lewis & Harris, Mainland Orkney, Mainland Shetlands, Arran, Mull and Islay.

Today, Jean wrote again to Ms Vennells, asking for an explanation for continuing to exclude so many Scottish islands from the Post Office’s mortgage services.

If you would like the option of a Post Office mortgage on one of the islands still left out, please contact Jean for help making your case.

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Jean challenges Post Office on ‘no island mortgages’ rule

Jean has written to the UK minister responsible for the Post Office, Lib Dem Jenny Willott, and the Managing Director of the publicly-owned company, Paula Vennels, to demand an explanation for the policy of refusing mortgages for properties on all Scottish islands except Skye.

The issue was raised by a Shetland woman who received a letter promoting Post Office mortgages, even though as an Islander she would be deemed ineligible to apply for one.

The Post Office’s mortgage lending criteria state: “Lending areas: England, Scotland (not Scottish Isles with the exception of Skye), Wales and Northern Ireland (unless otherwise stated).”

Ms Urquhart said:

“The local Post Office plays an absolutely central role in many rural communities, including in the islands. I would hope that relationship could extend to all of its services.

“When we have been so failed by the banks, a diversity of financial services providers is to be welcomed. Islanders should be able to benefit from that greater choice the Post Office provides.

“There’s no obvious justification for discriminating against the islands in this way. My hope is that this is an oversight by a distant official, and that the Post Office will quickly agree to scrap its ‘no island mortgages’ rule.

“But I’m already proud to back Citizens Advice in their fight for fair delivery charges to the north and the islands – if there has to be a fight for fair mortgages too, I’m ready.”

North businesses urged to speak up on unfair delivery charges

Jean has urged Highland and Islands businesses to speak up on discriminatory delivery charges. Jean asked firms across the North to back a survey launched today by Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS) to uncover the extent of the problem.

Businesses can take part online at tinyurl.com/DeliveryCosts, or pick up a paper copy of the survey from the 19 Citizens Advice Bureaux across the Highlands and Islands. CAS say they are particularly interested to hear views from small businesses based in rural Scotland.

Research by CAS in 2012 showed that 1 million Scots are hit by additional delivery charges or late deliveries, or are refused delivery altogether. Highlanders are charged an extra £15 per delivery on average, while customers in the islands face extra charges of almost £19 per order.

Jean said:

“As a small business owner myself, I know how costly – and how infuriating – discriminatory delivery policies can be. I’ll definitely be taking part in this survey.

“Citizens Advice are doing a great job fighting for fairer costs, and the least we can do is give them the evidence they need for the next stage of their campaign.

“Meanwhile in the Scottish Parliament I will do everything I can to support the fight for fair treatment of businesses and customers in the Highlands and Islands.”

Citizens Advice Scotland Chief Executive Margaret Lynch said:

“High delivery charges can be absolutely devastating for small businesses – both when sending and receiving parcels.

“We estimate that there are well over 20,000 businesses that could be affected. We want to assess how bad this problem is, so we are today opening a survey that is just for businesses. It’s their chance to have their say and contribute their evidence to our campaign.

“Throughout the campaign we have said that Scots don’t want ‘special treatment’. All they want is a fair deal. We are determined to ensure they get that.”