New Equity release product standard launches

The option to make penalty-free partial loan repayments has become an increasingly common feature of modern equity release products, enabling customers to mitigate the effects of compound interest and cut their borrowing costs in later life.

Related topics:  Finance
Property Reporter
28th March 2022
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As of today, this option has now been made a fifth ‘product standard’ or prerequisite for all plans recognised by representative sector body, the Equity Release Council, and will allow all new equity release customers to benefit from a product feature that has already enabled borrowers to reduce their interest costs by tens of millions of pounds.

The new standard adds to a range of features and flexibilities of the Council’s four existing product standards, in place since 1991, that form the bedrock of the modern market:

· The right to remain living in their home for life, with no repayment obligations to create a risk of repossession before they pass away or move into permanent care;

· A fixed or capped interest rate for life, so customers’ existing borrowing is never affected by interest rate rises;

· A no negative equity guarantee, meaning customers will never owe more than their home is worth and can never leave any debt to their families or other beneficiaries; and

· The right to port (move) their loan to another property providing it is acceptable under lending criteria.

Customers reduce interest costs by almost £100m over the next 20 years

Customers of lifetime mortgages, which account for the majority of equity release products, made more than £78m of penalty-free partial loan repayments last year. This reduced their interest costs by millions and increased their chances of leaving a traditional inheritance to loved ones when they pass away.

More than 125,000 penalty-free part repayments were made in 2021, averaging £608 each time.

By reducing their loans without committing to ongoing repayments, these customers will make a combined saving of £39m in interest costs over the next 10 years or £99m over 20 years.

The Council’s standards, rules and guidance set out additional voluntary requirements for product providers, financial advisers, legal professionals and others involved in the equity release process. They complement firms’ regulatory responsibilities in order to safeguard consumer interests and include a guarantee that all customers must receive independent legal advice before releasing equity to understand the commitments involved.

Nearly 700 firms have signed up to practice in line with Council standards, including all current product providers. More than 75,000 new and existing customers accessed funds from their properties last year via Council members to support their finances.

Independent research from Mintel’s annual Equity Release Schemes study recently revealed “strong consumer protection” is seen as the most important feature of equity release products among people who would consider them.

Jim Boyd, CEO of the Equity Release Council, comments: “The right to remain in your home for life, with no requirement to make ongoing repayments and no threat of repossession, has been central to the appeal of equity release since 1991 and remains a core pillar of the modern market.

“Our new product standard adds to this by ensuring people have the freedom to reduce their borrowing if circumstances change. It enables equity release customers to mitigate the effects of compound interest and reduce their borrowing costs in later life, which we know is often one of their main concerns.

“The market’s evolution means many customers are already saving tens of millions of pounds in interest costs by making penalty-free partial repayments as and when they can afford to. By introducing the new product standard, we expect many more customers are set to benefit as all new products will have this safeguard built-in.

“Equity release today is a flexible financial planning tool for a range of scenarios, from gifting to family to supporting better living standards over longer lives in retirement. Consumers should always use a Council member to explore their options and alternatives to equity release, to benefit from product protections and expert advice to decide if it is right for them.”

Craig Brown, CEO of Legal & General Home Finance, said: “Legal and General Home Finance has long-championed innovation and increased product choice in the equity release market so that later life lending can play a bigger role in the future of retirement planning.

“People’s needs in retirement are individual, and our products reflect that. Some customers choose to just pay the interest from their loan, while others may decide to make partial repayments, manage the amount of loan they drawdown, or borrow as they need it.

“Whatever the requirement, we recognise that a ‘one size fits all’ approach does not work for this market. That’s why we welcome the new Equity Release Council standard, putting greater importance on flexibility and choice across the industry.”

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