Thousands of low income pensioners and working age benefit claimants have started to receive official letters warning that the help they receive with their mortgages will end in April 2018 unless they sign up to a second mortgage with the government. But the letters are not clear about the interest rate on the loan and recipients are getting little help with this decision according to mutual insurer, Royal London. If they fail to comply they will lose help with their mortgage and could face repossession if they get into arrears as a result.
Support for Mortgage Interest (SMI) is paid to homeowners in receipt of certain income-related benefits such as Jobseekers Allowance (JSA) and Pension Credit. It covers the interest payments on mortgages and some home improvement loans. Up until April 2018 it has been paid as a free benefit but after this point any SMI payments will need to be repaid to the government with interest when the property is sold, transferred into new ownership or on the death of the recipient (or their partner).
The Government has not confirmed the interest rate which will apply, but investigations by Royal London suggest that the initial interest rate will be around 2.2% though this could rise if interest rates rise.
Claimants are receiving letters from the DWP informing them of the change and supplying loan application forms. An estimated 135,000 letters are being issued, with around 65,000 going to pensioners1.
Of particular concern is the potential impact on those SMI recipients on Pension Credit who have interest only mortgages stretching into retirement. There is already concern that some people may not have the money to pay off the balance on these mortgages when they come to an end. If they have to sell the property to cover the balance then they will also find themselves having to repay the loan.
While people of working age might be able to extend their mortgage term to give themselves more time to pay, those in retirement may struggle to get a lender to agree to do so.
If the SMI loan amount is more than the equity left within the home when it is sold then the remaining balance is written off but this could still leave claimants with no way of purchasing a new property so they will be forced back into the rental market.
Long-term claimants could face bills running into thousands of pounds. Royal London analysis shows that a Pension Credit recipient receiving the average weekly SMI payment of £20 could run up a debt of £5,552 if they claim SMI for five years, which is the typical claim duration for pensioners2. If they were to claim it for ten years then the loan amount would stand at £11,744. (See table below).
Commenting, Helen Morrissey, Personal Finance Specialist at Royal London said:
“Up until this point SMI has been paid as a free benefit but any payments made from April 2018 will now need to be repaid with interest – this is a massive policy shift. The Government needs to make sure that people have the help and advice they need to decide whether or not to take out a second mortgage to pay for this. But instead, thousands of people are getting letters which miss crucial details such as the interest rate on the mortgage. The government is pointing people in the direction of the Money Advice Service and Citizens Advice but they can only provide guidance as opposed to tailored advice. Some people will find the process too daunting and will lose their mortgage help next April, with a risk of repossession. While those able to do so should seek regulated financial advice about their options, the government must ensure that those unable to pay for this advice are given adequate support so they can make the right decision for them.”
|Time period||Loan amount|
Note 1: Numbers receiving SMI help and likely to receive letters:
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About Royal London:
Royal London is the largest mutual life, pensions and investment company in the UK, with funds under management of £117 billion, 8.8 million policies in force and 3,745 employees. Figures quoted are as at 30 June 2018.