Page last updated at 13:09 GMT, Friday, 16 January 2009

Mortgage rescue plan is extended

A derelict house
The scheme aims to cut the number of people forced out of their homes

A scheme aimed at stopping thousands of vulnerable people losing their homes is being extended across England.

Not-for-profit housing associations will buy homes from people struggling to pay their mortgage and then allow them to continue living there.

The government says the 200m scheme could help up to 6,000 households which might otherwise face repossession.

Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland have, or soon will have, their own initiatives in place.

The English scheme is one of several initiatives launched or expanded to help homeowners in the downturn.

The programme was devised last year by the National Housing Federation, which represents England's housing associations, and the Council of Mortgage Lenders.

It was already in place across 80 local authorities in England, but will be rolled out across the country from Friday.

Scotland has had a similar scheme since 2003, from which more than 700 households have already benefited.

The Scottish government has said it plans to extend its existing mortgage-to-rent scheme, as well as developing a new mortgage-to-equity programme, which will help some owners keep full possession of their homes while substantially reducing their debt.

Wales also has a mortgage rescue scheme in place, involving housing associations registered with the Welsh Assembly government.

Northern Ireland's department for social development has issued a consultation document on setting up such a scheme, but has still to launch it formally.

Pay-back prospect

Under the English scheme, the housing associations will buy homes at an independently assessed market price.

Jeff Bates outside his home

I feel fine because it means I get to stay in my house and my children get to stay in here as well.

Jeff Bates, Havering, East London

Successful applicants will remain in their property either as tenants on "affordable" rent, or as owners after receiving a loan from a housing association.

It is intended that once their financial situation improved, the householder could pay back the loan in part or full.

The scheme is targeted at families with small children, households with a disabled member, pensioners or those deemed "vulnerable" in another way.

People wanting help will apply to their local authority, and will have their finances assessed by a designated agency.

The property will then be valued and the housing association will step in to buy it.

Priority

The scheme will give long-term stability to thousands of families, said chief executive of the National Housing Federation, David Orr.

He added that it would also undermine "shadowy companies currently making money out of people's misfortune" who offer to buy properties at below the market value, promising the owners they can have a tenancy agreement before changing the terms of the contract.

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Helping ensure people can remain in their homes is a priority, said housing minister Margaret Beckett.

"We know that some families are worried about their mortgage payments right now, and we are determined to do everything possible to ensure repossession is always a last resort," she added.

She also said that the government was looking "at that much wider group of people who are likely to have lost some of their income but not all".

"Maybe one of them has lost their job, or maybe they've lost their overtime and that's the thing that jeopardises their pay and their mortgage and that's why we're working with the lenders on that scheme."

Conservative housing spokesman Grant Shapps said: "In a year when experts say that 75,000 people could have their homes repossessed, today's announcement will help just 3,000 families. The lack of ambition from ministers is truly astonishing."

Last-resort repossession

The government and lenders have been under pressure to offer help to homeowners who have hit hard times during the downturn and risk repossession.

The government has expanded the Income Support for Mortgage Interest (ISMI) scheme, which means that the time before homeowners who lose their jobs receive financial help with the interest payments on their mortgage has been cut from 39 weeks to 13 weeks.

Another initiative, the Homeowner Mortgage Support Scheme, will allow households that see their income fall unexpectedly to defer part of their payments for up to two years.

And under the Mortgage Pre-Action Protocol, lenders will be legally compelled to use repossession only as a last resort, having looked at other alternatives with the borrower, such as reducing monthly payments.

"Whatever the situation, the clear message for households struggling with their payments is to speak to their lender as soon as possible," Ms Beckett said.



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