Pensioners’ use of equity to manage debt is worrying

The number of pensioners using equity release as a means of debt consolidation indicates a worrying trend of unsecured borrowing among the older generation.

Latest figures from the Institute of Public Policy Research show that almost a million pensioners with more than 100,000 of housing wealth are on means-tested benefits and half of retired people live on less than 128 a week despite having three or four spare rooms in their homes.

And last year research from Retirement Plus revealed 20% of equity release customers used their lifetime mortgage to consolidate their debts.

Mike Davis, compliance director at BDS, says: “An alarming number of those over 65 are looking at lifetime mortgages as a form of debt consolidation, and feedback from the Financial Services Authority shows it is concerned that there is insufficient evidence that debt counselling is taking place to an appropriate extent.”

Stuart Wilson, managing director of the Equity Release Advisory Service, says there is nothing wrong with people using equity release to consolidate debts as long as they realise they are turning a short-term debt into a long-term one.

But he adds: “The number of pensioners with debt is alarming and suggests lenders and credit card firms see pensioners as good hunting ground. People over 60 need money for their lifestyle and if equity release was promoted better there would be less need for them to turn to unsecured lending.”

Wilson also believes there could be problems with the next generation of pensioners, many of whom may not have paid off their mortgages or have been let down by endowment policies.