Low take up of SMI loans ahead of the deadline in April

Michael Lloyd

March 16, 2018

A catastrophically low number of people have taken up Support for Mortgages Interest, (SMI), the Office for Budget Responsibility’s Economic and Fiscal Outlook shows.

This means hardly any have opted into a scheme to stop their mortgage benefit being cut of in April.

With less than a month until the new system is implemented, Royal London has renewed its call for government to delay changes to Support for Mortgage Interest (SMI).

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 government must do more to help them understand the changes and what it might mean for them. If not we could see people struggle to meet their mortgage payments.

“We would urge government to delay the implementation of these changes to ensure people have enough time and support to make an informed decision.”

The government report said that while all current claimants had been contacted regarding the change only around 10,000 claimants have so far agreed to take up the loan. This is ‘90% short of the 100,000 expected by the end of 2018/2019’.

The figures show remarkably little progress has been made since a Freedom of Information request from Royal London in January 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.

The changes to SMI have drawn criticism since they were announced in the 2015 Budget. Research carried out by IPSOS MORI on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions in August 2017 showed concern among SMI claimants.

Some 44% of claimants said they would cut back on essential spending to meet their mortgage interest payments rather than take on a loan.

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.

It has been paid as a free benefit but after April 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 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.

Where a claimant is undecided they will be sent a call summary with a reminder following six weeks later if the forms had not been returned. Benefit cessation and final reminder letters are due to be sent in February/March.

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