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Weak take-up for government’s new mortgage support scheme

Cherry Reynard
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Cherry Reynard

With less than a month to go to the end of the Support for Mortgage Interest (SMI) Scheme, only 10,000 have registered for the government’s new loan option.

Royal London has renewed its call for the government to delay changes to the SMI scheme. From April, the SMI, which is claimed by low income pensioners and the unemployed to help with interest payments on their mortgages, will be converted from a benefit to a loan repayable with interest.

Around 100,000 people had been expected to take up the scheme and while all have been contacted, relatively few have replied. The figures show remarkably little progress has been made since a Freedom of Information request from Royal London dated 22 January 2018, which showed 6,850 people had taken up the loan offer.

Those who don’t take up the loan will lose their mortgage support from April. Helen Morrissey, personal finance specialist at Royal London, said: “These latest figures make for concerning reading because as it currently stands around 100,000 people will lose their mortgage support in less than a month’s time. While it is reasonable to suggest that some of these claimants may have made alternative arrangements to meet their mortgage interest payments there is a strong possibility that many of these people won’t and face a nasty shock come April.

“SMI claimants are among some of the most vulnerable people in society and the government must do more to help them understand the changes and what it might mean for them…We would urge the government to delay the implementation of these changes to ensure people have enough time and support to make an informed decision.”

The changes to SMI have drawn criticism since they were announced in the 2015 Budget. SMI is paid to homeowners in receipt of certain income-related benefits such as Jobseekers Allowance and Pensions Credit. It covers the interest payments on mortgages and some home improvement loans.

From the start of the new tax year, 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 level of interest is determined by the gilt rate, which is currently 1.5%.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) started sending letters out to those affected last year advising that they could either choose to take up the loan option or stop receiving the support.