Thursday’s interest rate rise will ring warning bells for 3.5 million families with variable rate mortgages.
It’s a shock for many after borrowing rates have been so low for so long. And Bank of England Governor Mark Carney signalled further rate rises will follow in the next few years.
Tony Blair had only just stepped down as Prime Minister when Britain last saw the Bank of England raise base rates in July 2007.
But ministers have become complacent too.
I challenged Communities Secretary Sajid Javid in the Commons this week on why the Government are – at this time of all times – scrapping help with mortgage interest payments by turning the Support for Mortgage Interest Scheme into a loan.
It was clear from his answer that he didn’t know what I was talking about, and that the Government Minister responsible for housing hadn’t given any thought to the problems that millions of overstretched homeowners may now face.
126,000 households – including 60,000 pensioners – get help from the current scheme. From April they, and anyone else who can’t keep up their mortgage payments, will only be offered a loan.
As I revealed recently, even with rock-bottom rates, a million households are already on the financial edge with unaffordable monthly mortgage payments.
Meanwhile, household debt is rising – across the country it now totals 140% of families’ disposable income, with mortgage debt three-quarters of this.
Our home is the heart of our lives, and repossession rips out that heart. It’s why Labour in government introduced the Mortgage Rescue Scheme in the teeth of the global financial crisis, helping thousands of households stay in their own homes and cutting repossessions by more than a third compared to those who lost their homes in the early 90s recession when Conservative ministers stepped back from the problem.
The Government has already trebled the time people who can’t keep up their mortgage payments must wait for help from 13 weeks to 39 weeks. Now Ministers are set to change this support from a benefit to an interest-bearing loan.
Another loan is no good if you can’t keep up with the loan you’ve already got.
This is exactly the wrong time to remove help with meeting mortgage costs when the risk of repossession looms.
In the Budget, Ministers must act ahead of the extra pressures that many households will face in the months ahead. They should back a home-owners’ guarantee as Labour urged at the election – giving homeowners on lower incomes extra security if mortgage costs go up or they lose their jobs.
Labour in Government would back homeowners as interest rates rise, Tory Ministers should get a grip and do the same.
John Healey is the shadow secretary of state for housing and Labour MP for Wentworth & Dearne