How to get help if you can't afford your mortgage payments

A general view of estate agent boards outside a property in Staines-upon-Thames in Surrey. Picture date: Monday January 10, 2022.
Spiralling mortgage rates have meant it has become more expensive for people to pay off their mortgages. (PA) (PA)

Homeowners have been hit by spiralling mortgage rates in recent weeks amid turmoil in the markets.

There was a jump in rates after former chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng announced his controversial mini-budget in September.

The Bank of England (BoE) has since increased interest rates from 1.75% to 3% in a bid to control inflation and calm the markets.

This has meant it has become more expensive for people to pay off their mortgages.

Read more: How the Bank of England interest rate increase affects your mortgage repayments

Those taking out a new loan are being quoted a higher interest rate due to the Bank's change, and those whose mortgages are being renegotiated will have to deal with larger bills than they had in the past.

The Liberal Democrats have called for £300 support payments for people struggling with mortgages to avoid mass defaults and repossessions, with economists also warning the current help package isn't enough.

How much could your mortgage cost? (Yahoo News UK)
How much could your mortgage cost? (Yahoo News UK)

What help is available if you can't afford your mortgage payments?

Homeowners could be eligible for the support for mortgage interest (SMI) scheme if they receive benefits.

SMI is a government loan that helps claimants cover interest repayments on mortgages and home improvement loans.

Homeowners only have to repay the loan when they sell their property or transfer its ownership.

Successful applicants for SMI will receive help for the first £200,000 of their mortgage or loan.

Read more: 'It will probably kill me': Shocking impact of rising prices on the elderly laid bare

If they started claiming one of the required benefits before 2009 and had not hit state pension age when they did, or they currently claim pension credit, they will receive help of up to £100,000.

But eligibility for the scheme is very limited and only offers support to a small number of people.

The qualifying benefits for SMI are:

  • Income support

  • Income-based jobseeker’s allowance (JSA)

  • Income-related employment and support allowance (ESA)

  • Universal credit

  • Pension credit

Interest rates have risen to 3%. (Yahoo News UK)
Interest rates have risen to 3%. (Yahoo News UK)

Warning over 'extremely limited' SMI help

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) anti-poverty charity has warned that SMI support is "extremely limited".

It said for a working-age household to be provided with help for mortgage payments they would have to be claiming universal credit (or an equivalent benefit) for nine months prior.

The JRF added the support was in the form of a loan, with interest – and homeowners were not allowed to earn any additional money beyond UC or equivalent to be eligible.

Rachelle Earwaker, senior economist at the JRF, said: "The government must take urgent action to ensure that low-income households who are renting or who may struggle with their rising mortgage costs don’t lose their homes.

"Support for mortgage interest must be reformed, and support for renters needs to be urgently strengthened."

What to do if you can't afford your mortgage

The Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) says there are several things you can do if you are struggling to make mortgage payments.

It advises homeowners to get independent financial advice or talk to someone from its team.

Work out how much you can afford to pay towards your mortgage using a budgeting tool as you will need to show your lender how you will pay for any mortgage debt and future payments.

If you cannot pay your mortgage, you should contact your lender as soon as possible and not wait for them to contact you after a missed payment.

Many mortgage lenders have specific teams to help people in trouble and could offer several options, including restructuring repayments to temporarily reduce them or increase the length they are paid over.

Watch: 'Expect to pay £40 more per month' on mortgages, Martin Lewis says

You can also write an offer letter to your lender, including your budget, the reason you are struggling and what you can afford to pay each month.

If your offer is rejected you should carry on paying what you can.

If your lender takes legal action and tries to repossess your home you may need to find someone to help you negotiate, as it is never too late to agree a repayment deal.

Also, check if you have mortgage payment protection insurance that could help you.

You may decide to sell your home if you cannot afford payments and debts, but before making this decision you should seek financial advice.

Homeowners who are struggling can contact several debt charities which can advise and them, including Citizens Advice, StepChange, National Debtline and Shelter.