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State to underwrite mortgages for credit crunch-hit borrowers

The government is poised to underwrite the mortgages of thousands of borrowers who are struggling to keep up repayments as a result of losing their jobs.

Last week Prime Minister Gordon Brown told the House of Commons that the government would guarantee the interest payments of redundant home owners for up to two years.

The fine detail has yet to be published but HBOS, Barclays, Lloyds TSB, Northern Rock, Abbey, Nationwide, HSBC and the Royal Bank of Scotland support the scheme in principle. Together they hold 70% of all UK mortgages.

Housing minister Margaret Beckett says: “We are determined to do everything possible to ensure that hard-working households have the opportunity to stay in their homes if they suffer loss of income during the downturn.

“This scheme will give households breathing space to get back on their feet and help to ensure they do not fear repossession.”

She adds: “It shares the risk of home ownership between government, lenders and borrowers at this difficult time.

“We want to see all lenders sign up to the scheme as part of their efforts to ensure that repossession is always the last resort.”

But debt management specialist Payplan says the scheme will fail to help many of the borrowers who need assistance most.

John Fairhurst, managing director of Payplan, says most of the borrowers his company encounters are struggling while still in work, so the government scheme will leave these individuals by the wayside.

Fairhurst says: “The plan the government announced last week to help those facing repossession is good news but only for borrowers who suffer unexpected changes in their circumstance, such as losing their jobs.

“The majority of borrowers who contact us about their mortgage arrears have not experienced any loss of income but are simply unable to keep up with their debt repayments anyway.”

He adds: “Those who come to us facing repossession also owe about 42,000 in unsecured debt, on average.

“It is important that lenders ensure they also have policies in place to help this larger group of borrowers.”

John Lukanik, director of Capricorn Debt Management, says that while Fairhurst’s point is valid, anything the government can do to help is important and borrowers without jobs need more help than those who are employed.

He adds: “Many of the struggling consumers I encounter who have jobs are in debt trouble of their own making. Taxpayers should not have to pick up their tab.

“We are entering a tough economic time and consumers’ behaviour should reflect that fact.”

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