Help to buy options in Northern Ireland
NI Co-ownership has recently announced some changes to its eligibility criteria. With this in mind, we take a look at some of the other options available to support people into homeownership.
Of course, homeownership is not always the most suitable option for a person and anyone who is considering buying a home should ensure that they have received comprehensive, reliable and independent financial advice and that they have been stress-tested against any affordability shocks, such as a change in circumstances or an interest rate rise.
Shared ownership schemes allow a person to purchase a portion of a property and to rent the remainder.
Co-ownership is the daddy of shared ownership in Northern Ireland, having operated for almost 40 years helping more than 26,000 households into homeownership. Using this model, applicants can buy anything from 50-90% share in a property and the NI Co-ownership Housing Association will buy the remainder and charge the household a rent for this portion of the property. Homeowners can then choose to increase their shares in the property by “staircasing” until they own the full property.
Co-ownership has a number of eligibility criteria for both applicants and potential properties:
- Properties up to a value of £160,000 will be considered
- One-bedroom houses or apartments cannot be purchased using co-ownership
- Applicants must be unable to afford to purchase the property without assistance from co-ownership
- Applicants should have no more than £6,000 in debt, or no more than £12,000 if there are multiple persons on the application
The full list of eligibility criteria is available from the NI Co-ownership website. Applicants must pay a fee of £400 to co-ownership, but this will cover the legal fees and valuation of the property. If an application is unsuccessful or if the applicant chooses to use his or her own solicitors, £210 of this fee will be refunded.
FairShare is a relative newcomer to the shared ownership scene in Northern Ireland. Apex, Choice and Clanmil housing associations operate this service with funding from the Affordable Homes Loan Fund. The scheme works on a similar model to co-ownership, with applicants needing to buy at least 50% of the property and renting the remainder from one of the partner housing associations.
Unlike co-ownership, FairShare has lists of properties which are available to purchase through the scheme, although applicants can also suggest a property for the scheme. Many of the pre-approved properties are new builds.
Mortgages are available through selected lenders. There is no application fee for FairShare but the applicant will have to pay all legal costs and any mortgage application fees.
Help to Buy ISAs
A government-backed savings ISA is available to first-time buyers who are planning to buy a home. First time buyers who save in a Help to Buy ISA will receive a tax free bonus payment from government equal to 25% of their savings, meaning savers will receive a government bonus of £50 for every £200 saved. A minimum of £1,600 must have been saved in the account to trigger the bonus, with the maximum government bonus payable per account being £3,000. A couple applying to buy a home could end up with a bonus payment of £6,000 if each managed to save the maximum £12,000 in individual ISAs.
This is a very generous scheme, but attracted criticism in 2016. Many first-time buyers had assumed that this money could be used to boost their deposit, and were disappointed to learn that the bonus payments were only payable on completion of a house purchase.
Rent to buy
Last year saw the launch of a government backed rent to buy scheme in Northern Ireland. OwnCo Homes is a private subsidiary of Co-Ownership Housing, funded by interest-free loans from government.
The scheme offers people who cannot currently afford to buy a home a fixed-term tenancy of a newly-built home with an option to purchase the property at the end of the tenancy. Tenants who decide to purchase the property will receive 25% of the rent they have paid during the term back as a rebate.
There are some upfront costs with this scheme, as applicants will have to make a down-payment of £2,500. This money is returned at the end of the tenancy along with the rent rebate, and provides a healthy boost to any deposit necessary to purchase a home. The property can be purchased with help from co-ownership and, should the tenant be unable to afford to buy this property, the bonus can be ported to another property the tenant can afford to purchase.
Right to buy
Secure social tenants become entitled to purchase their home at a discount after 5 years. While this scheme is a low-cost way into homeownership, it is not always the best option for the tenant and it is vital that anyone considering this option get comprehensive advice on the advantages and disadvantages of changing from a secure, lifetime tenant to a homeowner.
The right to buy scheme has led to a decrease in social housing stock, as it has been difficult to build sufficient numbers of new properties to replace those sold by the scheme. The Department for Communities has proposed, in a December 2016 consultation, to repeal or amend Article 3(a) of the Housing (NI) Order 1983. The effect of this change would be to remove the right to buy from housing association tenants or to allow housing associations to opt out of this scheme.