Changes to waiting times will put homes at risk
Local charity Housing Rights is warning that changes to how long people must wait to get help with their housing costs will put homes at risk. It is urging anyone who is worried about their mortgage and who could be impacted by these changes to get free independent advice as early as possible.
Support for Mortgage Interest (SMI) is available to people in receipt of certain income based benefits. From the 1st April the waiting time for new claimants to access this help will increase from 13 weeks to 39 weeks.
Kate Ward, Policy & Practice Manager with Housing Rights commented: “Timely access to Support for Mortgage Interest (SMI) payments can be critical in providing a lifeline to struggling homeowners. We are extremely concerned that when the increased waiting times kick in that people in mortgage difficulties are facing a perfect storm. It is quite possible that by the time they can access SMI they could have already lost their home. Anyone who feels they might be affected should get in touch with us on 0300 32 30 310 to go through their options. ”
Housing Rights offer a dedicated mortgage debt advice service on behalf of the Department for Social Development. Last year the service assisted over 1600 households.
A repossession taskforce was established in 2014 by the Social Development Minister to look into repayment arrears, repossession and negative equity in Northern Ireland. In its final report the taskforce determined that recent improvements in the national housing market have not been seen locally and that funding for SMI should continue. House prices remain 50% below their 2007 peak and Northern Ireland has the highest levels of negative equity in the UK.
Ms Ward continued: “There are options available for anyone who is experiencing difficulty, or worried that they may encounter problems with their mortgage as a result of these changes. Our mortgage debt advisers are here to help and can be contacted on 0300 3230310 for free independent advice. Online advice is also available on www.housingadviceni.org.”
 There is no waiting time for people in receipt of pension credit to access SMI