LONDON (Reuters) - Extra help for mortgage payers who lose their jobs comes into force on Monday amid fears that 75,000 homes could be repossessed this year as the economic downturn bites.
The government is doubling to 200,000 pounds the size of home loan covered by a benefit scheme that helps people with mortgage interest payments.
It is also cutting to 13 weeks from 39 the amount of time a claimant has to wait until they qualify for the Support Mortgage Interest benefit.
The moves were announced last year as part of the government’s plans to ease the impact of the economic slowdown.
But a spokesman for the Council of Mortgage Lenders (CML.L), which forecasts the repossession of 75,000 homes in 2009, said the change would have only a limited effect.
The benefit, which covers mortgage interest but not capital repayments, is only available when people are already on some form of income support.
Where a house has been bought by a couple, both partners usually would have to be out of work before the benefit kicks in.
“It is only going to be of assistance to somebody who may be buying on their own or if both partners lose their source of income,” the CML spokesman said.
“So it will help a few home owners but not a huge number.”
Work and Pensions Secretary James Purnell told the BBC that couples not on benefit would be able to get help under a separate government scheme announced in December allowing them to defer mortgage interest payments for up to two years.
“We want to make (repossession) the greatest last resort it possibly can be,” Purnell said.
There are 11.7 million home loans outstanding in Britain, with an average size of 102,000 pounds, according to the CML.