Tony Hazell  

Welcoming retirement interest-only mortgages

Tony Hazell

Tony Hazell

It can seem to take an age for the FCA to wake up to what is happening outside its cloistered corridors in Canary Wharf.

So, we should welcome its consultation on removing regulatory barriers to allow retirement interest-only mortgages. These would allow lenders to offer loans repayable on specific events such as death or going into residential care.

Previous FCA policies led lenders to clamp down on mortgages for older customers with arbitrary cut-off ages, sometimes as low as 65, regardless of their ability to pay.

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Through my Money Mail column I have been contacted by desperate pensioners who fear being thrown out of their homes because their interest-only mortgage term is almost up.

While they can afford the interest payments, they do not have a means of repayment.

Lenders have generally been helping borrowers on an individual basis, but the bigger ones have been reluctant to embrace across the board home loans for older pensioners.

With about 40,000 interest-only mortgages reaching maturity every year over the next decade or so, a case-by-case approach will not be good enough.

Rather than being seen as a problem to be resolved, retirement borrowers must be treated as another segment of the market to be served.

Currently only a few building societies, such as National Counties, have taken an enlightened approach and been willing to serve older borrowers.

This has left equity release as the only option, which can be expensive to set up, have higher interest rates and in some cases carry onerous terms for early repayment.

Equity release has its place, but opening the market would stimulate competition – helping to squeeze interest rates and hopefully creating better deals.

It would also allow more borrowers to stay with their existing lender – not always the best approach financially, but certainly one favoured by those who want simplicity in their financial dealings.

Pensioners with a reliable income are arguably in a better position to afford an interest-only mortgage than younger people whose earnings might fluctuate and whose outgoings could well rise if they start families.

It is the regulator’s responsibility to ensure all consumers – whatever their age – can benefit from a wide market choice.

The FCA seems, belatedly, to have woken up to this fact.

Out of touch on Isas

Recent HMRC figures recorded a fall in cash Isa sales of 1.6m in 2016/17. Overall investment fell to £39bn from £59bn the previous tax year.

But there was no corresponding uplift in investment Isa sales, which held steady, putting on a mere £1.2bn.

This is not a story of saving versus investing. Rather it is a question of filling your boots and then having nothing left to stuff in them.

When the annual cash Isa subscription level was £3,000 there was a need to make sure you bottled and stored the allowance every year. As recently as 2014 the limit of £5,760 has the use-it-or-lose-it cache. But £20,000 is more than most people can dream of putting away in a year. Double that to £40,000 for a couple and most people probably see no need to rush in.