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Having a mortgage used to seem like an appealing alternative to renting privately from a landlord. In the years after the global financial crisis of 2008, ultra-low interest rates meant borrowing was kept cheap and owning a home was generally less expensive than renting one.

Well life, as they say, can turn on a dime. Since the end of 2021, the Bank of England has hiked their base rate 10 times, which combined with the fallout of Liz Truss’s so-called “mini-Budget” sent swap rates, and therefore, the price of mortgages into a tailspin, owning a home no longer looks so financially advantageous.

And as the interest people pay on their mortgages increases, it’s becoming clear that government support for homeowners (which was once plentiful) is falling seriously short.

The economists over at Capital Economics, which is headed up by Roger Bootle, who was a leading voice in warning that the housing market could crash pre-2008, have found that renting a home in the UK is now cheaper than taking out a new mortgage to buy for the first time in 14 years.

Their analysis has found that the average mortgage repayment now costs more than £1,000 for the first time… ever.

Anyone who has been caught in the private rent trap in recent years, at the behest of their landlord and at the mercy of unexpected rent hikes or eviction will likely have little sympathy for the plight of homeowners. A demographic who, it’s true, do earn more and have more in savings on average than renters.

However, we really ought to spare a thought for anyone who is struggling to make their monthly mortgage payments. Not everyone who owns a home is wealthy. Indeed, as hardship experts the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) has previously noted a third of all households in poverty after housing costs before inflation took off were homeowners.

And now, as mortgages get more expensive, some of them are struggling.

Expert mortgage advisor Sabrina Hall, who has more than 20 years’ experience in the industry, told me that she is deeply concerned.

“I was contacted yesterday by a man who recently became the sole breadwinner in his household after his wife – a former head teacher – was suddenly made disabled,” she explained over the phone.

“Suddenly this couple were reliant on state support to pay their mortgage because they lost an income. Their mortgage has gone up to more than £1,000 a month but the support they can access only covers £280 a month,” Hall continued.

“When I spoke to this man he was literally saying ‘I’ve got to choose between paying my mortgage and feeding my kids’.

“Sadly, there was nothing I could do to help them. I can’t get them another mortgage because their income is too low and they are now falling behind on payments, which puts them in arrears,” she added. “The government really needs to increase the available support.”

As things stand, homeowners who fall on hard times can apply for something known as support for mortgage interest (SMI). This is a loan from the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) that is intended to help pay mortgage interest. However, it is repayable with interest at 1.4 per cent in its own right. Hall says that instead of providing a life raft, this pushes struggling homeowners further into debt on all fronts.

It wasn’t always the case that SMI worked like this. Prior to 2018, SMI was a benefit which did not have to be repaid.

That’s not all that’s wrong with the current system. The current interest rate which is used to calculate how much support a homeowner can get via SMI is 2.09 per cent. This is wildly out of date because average mortgage rates have now far exceeded this: the average five-year fixed rate is now running at 4.73 per cent and the average standard variable rate is at 7.23%. This means that if the person seeking help is on an interest rate higher than 2.09%, there may be a shortfall between the SMI provided by the government and their monthly mortgage payment.

I asked the DWP whether they planned to reconsider the SMI rate but did not receive a response by time of publication.

For years, the Conservatives have positioned themselves as the party of homeownership and encouraged voters to buy into the idea that owning property is secure and lucrative. Now it’s time that they become the party of homeowners and make sure that nobody loses their home because of forces – whether that be illness or inflation – beyond their control.

Key Housing

Members of the local community take part in a silent walk to remember five years since the Grenfell Tower fire in June 2022. (Photo: Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images)

And now, let’s turn our attention to Grenfell and the ongoing building safety crisis left in the wake of that tragic and entirely avoidable fire, which killed 72 people and changed the lives of countless others forever.

At the end of January, Housing Secretary Michael Gove set a six-week deadline for developers to sign binding legal agreements that stipulate they are responsible for paying to make safe buildings with dangerous cladding.

In the same breath, Mr Gove warned that companies who failed to sign and comply with these contracts would face consequences. Namely, being “banned” from operating in the housing market.

Well, that deadline is now upon us. And, if the Twitter campaign shared by My Gove yesterday is anything to go by, things are not going well.

The Housing Secretary shared an image of a timer bearing the text “Developers – time is running out to sign the contract”.

This tough talk is undeniably emotive. However, I can’t stop thinking about the people who died at Grenfell. I can’t stop thinking about the thousands of people still stuck inside unsafe buildings with homes they cannot sell, and worse, struggle to sleep in because they fear for their lives.

This is a matter not just of death, but of the right to every innocent homeowner caught up in this scandal to live their life. To go to bed knowing their cladding is being dealt with. To sell their home. To move on.

If the government must resort to publicly shaming developers into acknowledging that on social media, something has gone very wrong.

Ask me anything

The best thing you can do if your rent increases is to try and negotiate with your landlord. (Photo: Getty)

This week, I’ve had several questions about rent rises. One reader wrote in to tell me that they’ve just received an above inflation rent hike at 14 per cent.

What can you do if this happens to you? Sadly, in England and Wales, there is no rent freeze in place like the one implemented in Scotland. There is also no legislation to limit how much landlords can increase rent by because we’re still waiting on the Renters’ Reform Bill.

So, if you find yourself in this position, the best thing to do is try to negotiate.

Ask your question via Twitter @Victoria_Spratt, Instagram @vicky.spratt or email [email protected]

Vicky’s pick

Anne-Marie Duff as Grace, Saise Quinn as Blánaid, Sharon Horgan as Eva, Eva Birthistle as Ursula, Sarah Greene as Bibi and Eve Hewson as Becka (Photo: Christopher Barr/Apple)

I am taking another break so there will be no Home Front next week, but we’ll be back in business on March 21st.

I’m incredible late to the Bad Sisters party as a huge Sharon Horgan fan but, in my absence, I implore you to watch it. This dark comedy had me belly laughing from start to finish which, in this economy, is exactly what everyone needs.

This is Home Front with Vicky Spratt, a subscriber-only newsletter from i. If you’d like to get this direct to your inbox, every single week, you can sign up here.

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