The lifetime mortgage segment saw the biggest annual increase in customer numbers (25%) during 2018 compared to other mortgage areas – the third successive year this has happened, the Equity Release Council’s Spring 2019 Market Report has found.
Over the course of 2018, homeowners over-55 years of age accessed 50p of housing wealth for every £1 of savings withdrawn through flexible pension payments, highlighting the increasing role of property wealth as a supplementary source of later life funds.
David Burrowes, chairman of the Equity Release Council, said: “2018 saw equity release enter the mainstream of financial services as an increasingly popular way to meet important and diverse social needs in later life.
“Flexible options to access housing wealth are helping the nation’s growing population of older homeowners to fund lifestyle purchases, satisfy daily needs, support long-term financial planning or assist their families.
“As the demand for equity release grows, so does the need for quality advice. It is vital that consumers have access to professional support that considers short and long-term needs, the broader retirement picture and the role of family in decision-making.
“Products recognised by the Council remain the only route which guarantees product safeguards, regulated and qualified financial advice and independent legal counsel to help identify whether they fit a customer’s later life needs.
“Equity release is not a ‘silver bullet’ for every retirement need, but a growing number of homeowners are finding it can be a solution to meet a range of financial goals.”
Buoyed by continued growth across all UK regions, lifetime mortgages are now estimated to account for around a third of all mortgages taken out by homeowners from their mid-50s onwards, compared to less than a fifth 10 years ago.
While total annual lending activity grew for a seventh consecutive year to reach £3.94bn in 2018, the average amounts of property wealth withdrawn remained broadly stable – indicating that growth is a result of broader uptake rather than increasing loan sizes.
Over the last five years, London and southern regions – East of England (158%), the South East (143%) and South West (99%) – have experienced some of the strongest growth in consumer demand.
More recently, the Midlands and Northern Ireland have come to the fore, with the East Midlands (26%), West Midlands (20%) and Northern Ireland (21%) seeing some of the greatest increase in demand for lifetime mortgages between 2016/17 and 2017/18.
Product innovation continues to broaden the appeal of equity release to suit a widening array of needs in later life.
At the start of 2019, the range of product options that meet Equity Release Council standards – backed by product safeguards and independent legal advice alongside regulated financial advice – had doubled to 221 in the space of a year.
Over half (52%) of product options offer downsizing protection, up from 42% a year earlier. The range of options allowing customers to make regular interest payments – helping to reduce the overall cost of unlocking housing wealth – also increased to 45 in January 2019.
Jointly held plans continued to make up the majority of new plans in H2 2018. Across single plans, women accounted for a greater share of market activity than men, with more than double the number of single plans taken out by women than men in H2 2018.
Returning drawdown activity increased by 29% year-on-year, broadly in line with the increase in new drawdown products agreed over the last two years.
This suggests that growth in drawdown activity was due to more individuals holding these products, rather than individuals taking more frequent drawdowns.
The number of existing customers seeking further advances, extensions of their plans, was also lower in H2 2018 than a year earlier.
Dave Harris, chief executive officer at equity release lender more 2 life, added: “With lifetime mortgages experiencing a staggering 25% annual increase in new loans last year, we are delighted to see that product innovation has been a key factor in this impressive growth.
“Modern lending features such as downsizing protection, inheritance protection and flexible capital repayments offer borrowers greater flexibility and choice.
“As demand for equity release rises, the sector must also invest in new technology to keep up and deliver the level of service that today’s retirees expect.
“Delivering quick processes, expanding our product offerings and providing user-friendly accessible solutions for borrowers, will stand us in good stead for maintaining the robust growth we have seen in recent years.”