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When everyone has a home

Housing and debt helpline for Northern Ireland – 028 9024 5640

NI Homeowners urged to get advice as benefit changes loom

Local charity Housing Rights is urging homeowners who get help to pay their mortgage interest to seek advice, as the benefit will change to a loan this April. The charity’s helpline is already dealing with calls from homeowners who receive this benefit, called Support for Mortgage Interest (SMI), who are unsure what the changes will mean for them.

Recent figures reveal[1] that out of the 124,000 households receiving this benefit across the UK, just 6,850 have signed up to the new loan scheme.

Ursula Toner, Advice Services Manager with Housing Rights commented:

Thousands of local households receive this benefit so we are very concerned by these low take up figures.  We work with people who are faced with losing their home due to job loss or serious illness every day.  We have no doubt that without the critical safety net provided by this benefit many people would have lost their homes. That makes it even more vital for households reliant on this help to get free information and advice about the best way forward for them.”

From April SMI becomes an interest bearing loan which will be secured on the home. While the level of help available to claimants will not change they must consent to receiving this assistance. The new system has the potential to have an even more acute impact locally as NI has the greatest proportion of homeowners in poverty than the rest of the UK[2]

Miss Toner continued:

It is easy to bury our heads in the sand and do nothing. For some households taking the loan to replace the benefit may be the best thing to do, for others it may not.  We want people to make an informed decision that is right for them.  Our helpline can give homeowners advice and options based on their individual circumstances.  Making a call could help safeguard your home.”

Anyone worried about the change can contact Housing Right housing helpline on 90 245640 and pick option 3 to chat to an adviser.

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For further information contact Claire at Housing Rights on 90 267925

Notes to editors

  • Housing Rights is the leading specialist provider of independent housing advice in Northern Ireland. 
  • Established in 1964 the charity works to improve lives by tackling homelessness and housing problems.Last year the organisation provided advice and assistance on over 42,000 housing issues.
  • Support for Mortgage was introduced after the Second World War to provide a lifeline to those who lost their job or became ill.
  • The Government announced in the 2015 summer budget that Support for Mortgage Interest would be changed from a benefit to a loan.
  • The conversion to a loan will affect both Universal Credit claimants and those receiving SMI because they claim eligible legacy benefitsFrom April the Support for Mortgage Interest loan will be charged at 1.2%



[1] Obtained from an FOI request from Royal London http://bit.ly/2EGuiBZ

[2] JRF Home Owners and Poverty in Northern Ireland briefing