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The UK's endowment headache

Simon Gompertz
Working Lunch

Watch Duncan and Sylvie Say's story

Your stories of endowment pain show how serious the problem has become. But there are some handy tips as well.

The UK's mortgage endowment nightmare is reaching a new stage, with 50,000 endowments maturing a month.

Millions of homeowners are relying on the policies to pay off the mortgage and many are expecting a massive shortfall.

"We're down about £26,000," complains Francis Woodbridge.

David Arnfield's shortfall is £13,000 and growing. He says: "I feel that endowment policy holders have been forgotten by the government."

To pay or not to pay

Duncan and Sylvie Say
Duncan and Sylvie Say feel let down by their endowment mortgage.

An endowment is a monthly savings plan, usually invested in shares and property, and designed to pay off a mortgage after around 25 years.

There's a big dilemma for people with a few years to run until their mortgages come to an end.

Should they throw good money after bad and carry on with monthly payments into their endowments?

Duncan and Sylvie Say opened their Essex home to Working Lunch to show us how serious the problem can become.

They are paying nearly £800 a year into their endowment policy, but last year the value of the plan fell by more than £2,000. There's already a £15,000 shortfall compared with their mortgage.

"We've paid so much in over the years, but at the moment it almost looks like it's going backwards," Duncan laments.

Varied advice

Antony Williams of Evolve Financial Planning suggested the Says carry on making their payments, because the amount they are being promised at the end of the policy will still be worth having.

But other viewers have countered with their own tips and several advocate dumping the tarnished endowment policies, using the money raised to pay off some of the mortgage immediately.

I was paying money in and getting less back, so I made the decision to cash it. It's the best move I ever made.
Richard Heaton

"I was paying money in and getting less back," explains Richard Heaton, who had a Standard Life policy, "so I made the decision to cash it. It's the best move I ever made."

Using the proceeds, Richard eliminated part of his mortgage. Then he used the money he would have sunk into the endowment each month to pay off even more.

Ask the experts

Traditionally advisers have warned against surrendering an endowment policy to the insurance company providing it. The deal can be a poor one.

One route to follow is to obtain a quotation from an endowment market maker. These traders buy the policies from homeowners and sell them to investors around Europe, who keep them going until maturity.

In the current climate, the buyers are more reluctant to play ball. The market for traded endowments has fallen from £500m a year to as little as £50m.

"Funds are holding fire because the policies they have already bought have gone down in value," reports Jeremy Brettell from Surrenda-link, one of the trading companies. His view is that demand could improve soon.

Best bets

For anyone who wants to get a quote, the most sought-after policies are worth more then £5,000, have more than 3 years to run and are with one of the big five companies: the Pru, Standard Life, Norwich Union, Legal & General and Friends Provident.

The best contact point is the Association of Policy Market Makers (tel 0845 011 9406).

Association of Policy Market Makers website

Another tip comes from Working Lunch viewer, Adrian Lucas. For ten years when interest rates were low enough, he used his spare money money to pay off chunks of his mortgage. He had taken on board warnings that the endowment would disappoint.

"Now, I'm mortgage free," whoops Adrian.

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