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What happens if I can’t afford to pay my mortgage?

What happens if I can’t afford to pay my mortgage?
9 Ocak 2024 16:01
A woman

Average interest rates charged by mortgage lenders peaked at 15-year highs in 2023 and levels are now starting to drop.

Major High Street names, such as the Halifax and HSBC, kicked off 2024 with rate cuts to keep hold of customers, after their own funding costs subsided.

But even with the average rate now below 6%, repayments will still be much higher for the 1.6 million mortgage holders due to come off cheap fixed rate deals over the next 12 months.

So what can those struggling to make repayments do – and what support should they get from their provider?

How have tracker, variable and fixed mortgages changed?

There are different types of mortgages, all of which have become more expensive over the last year.

Tracker rates rise and fall in line with the benchmark interest rate the Bank of England sets eight times a year. It rose to 5.25% in August and has stayed there ever since.

  • Standard variable rates (SVRs) change at the discretion of the lender – a decision influenced by the Bank of England’s rate but not directly linked
  • Fixed rates, held by about three-quarters of mortgage customers, are set for a certain number of years – usually two or five – after which borrowers remortgage, or are automatically moved to an SVR

Mortgage rates have risen, and the 1.6 million people on tracker or variable deals are paying much more than a year ago.

Those with fixed rate products have to renegotiate their mortgages with their lender or hunt around for a better deal before their existing one terminates.

What next for mortgage rates?

It is hard to say. The sector has seen considerable upheaval over the past 18 months, after many years of ultra-low rates.

The typical interest charged on fixed rates for new borrowers shot up after the tumultuous mini-budget under Liz Truss’s short-lived premiership, then calmed somewhat, but subsequently rose to a 15-year high.

But while rates are now dropping they still remain high compared with the historic lows of below 1.0%, even as late as December 2021.

Woman looking at billsImage source, Getty Images

Last year the Bank warned that more than two million households will pay between £200 and £499 more a month on new deals from the end of 2023 and the end of 2026.

A further one million mortgage holders will see their monthly payments rise by at least £500 over the next two years.

House prices, which started falling last year as a result of higher interest rates putting buyers off, are slowly picking up again according to the UK’s biggest mortgage lender the Halifax.

It said prices rose by 0.5% in November, the second increase in a row.

But the government’s official forecaster, the Office for Budget Responsibility, suggests that UK house prices will fall by 10% by the end of 2024 compared with the peak of 2022.

Will it be hard to get a new mortgage?

There are still likely to be plenty of options, depending on your circumstances. The bigger question is whether people can afford higher repayments.

An agreement between lenders, the Treasury and regulators means people can switch to a new fixed-rate mortgage without a new affordability test when their current deal ends, as long as their payments are up-to-date.

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How can I save money when renewing my mortgage?

If you have savings, you could consider paying down some of the total amount borrowed.

Savings could also be put into a linked offset savings account, where you only pay interest on the mortgage balance, minus the amount you’ve saved.

You may want to extend the length of the mortgage term, although that would mean paying more in total.

A broker can guide you through the different options.

What happens if I miss a mortgage payment?

Owing two or more months’ repayments means you are officially in arrears.

But the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), which regulates mortgage firms, says lenders must treat customers fairly.

It says borrowers must contact their lender as soon as they realise they will struggle to make repayments – the earlier the better. Trained and experienced staff must offer help.

Media caption,

Worried about rising mortgage payments? The BBC’s Lora Jones tells you what you can do, in a minute

What do lenders have to do?

Within 15 working days of falling into arrears, your lender must:

  • list the missed payments
  • explain how much is outstanding on the mortgage
  • outline any charges

Your lender must consider any reasonable request to resolve the arrears. This could include reducing your monthly payment by extending the term of the mortgage, or switching to an interest-only payment for a certain period.

Missing monthly payments – or arranging to pay less than you owe – will be reflected on your credit file, which could affect your ability to borrow money in the future.

Can I take a mortgage holiday?

A mortgage payment holiday lets borrowers delay repayments for a short time.

Lenders may offer this option, depending on individual circumstances, although probably not to those already in arrears.

The level of support offered to customers during the Covid pandemic has been reduced.

Again, a payment holiday will show on your credit file.

Could I lose my home?

Some people may decide to sell their home and – in extreme circumstances – the lender could take court action to repossess it.

Repossessions are far rarer than they used to be.

There are several stages before a lender can do this, and the whole process takes about two years.

But if you think your home is at risk, it is well worth getting free, independent debt advice about your options.

What support does the government offer?

Governments tend not to get directly involved in support when people face higher mortgage repayments, but many lenders have signed up to the government’s mortgage charter which ensures they are clear about the options available.

For people on qualifying benefits, Support for Mortgage Interest is available across the UK. The government pays some of your mortgage interest payments, but in the form of a loan (which must be repaid, with interest).

Borrowers tend to pay off the loan when they sell the property, or when they die.

There are various conditions and requirements that need to be considered before signing up.

Governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland also run some mortgage support schemes, but the rules are complicated, and they tend to focus on people at risk of homelessness.

There is more information on the government-backed Moneyhelper website.

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