What is equity release?

Equity release refers to a range of products that let you access the equity (cash) tied up in your home if you are over the age of 55. You can take the money you release as a lump sum or, in several smaller amounts or as a combination of both.

There are two equity release options:

  • Lifetime mortgage: you take out a mortgage secured on your property provided it is your main residence, while retaining ownership. You can choose to ring-fence some of the value of your property as an inheritance for your family. You can choose to make repayments or let the interest roll-up. The loan amount and any accrued interest is paid back when you die or when you move into long-term care.
  • Home reversion: you sell part or all of your home to a home reversion provider in return for a lump sum or regular payments. You have the right to continue living in the property until you die, rent free, but you have to agree to maintain and insure it. You can ring-fence a percentage of your property for later use, possibly for inheritance. The percentage you retain will always remain the same regardless of the change in property values, unless you decide to take further cash releases. At the end of the plan your property is sold and the sale proceeds are shared according to the remaining proportions of ownership.

Lifetime mortgages

Most people who take out equity release use a lifetime mortgage. Usually you don’t have to make any repayments while you’re alive, interest ‘rolls up’ (unpaid interest is added to the loan). This means that the debt can increase quite quickly over a period of time.

However, some lifetime mortgages do now offer you the option to pay all or some of the interest, and some let you pay off the interest and capital.

In the same way that ordinary mortgages vary from lender to lender, so do lifetime mortgages. When considering a lifetime mortgage, it’s useful to know:

  • The minimum age at which you can take out a lifetime mortgage. Usually it’s 55. We’re all living longer so the earlier you start the more it is likely to cost in the long run.
  • The maximum percentage you can borrow. You can normally borrow up to 60% of the value of your property. How much can be released is dependent on your age and the value of your property. The percentage typically increases according to your age when you take out the lifetime mortgage, while some providers may offer larger sums to those with certain past or present medical conditions.
  • Interest rates must be fixed or, if they are variable, there must be a “cap” (upper limit) which is fixed for the life of the loan (Equity Release Council standard).
  • You have the right to remain in your property for life or until you need to move into long-term care, provided the property remains your main residence and you abide by the terms and conditions of your contract. (Equity Release Council standard).
  • The product has a “no negative equity guarantee”. This means that when your property is sold, and agents’ and solicitors’ fees have been paid, even if the amount left is not enough to repay the outstanding loan to your provider, neither you nor your estate will be liable to pay any more (Equity Release Council standard).
  • You have the right to move to another property subject to the new property being acceptable to your product provider as continuing security for your equity release loan (Equity Release Council standard). Different lifetime mortgage providers may have slightly different thresholds.
  • Whether you can pay none, some or all of the interest. If you can make repayments, the mortgage will be less costly. However, with a lifetime mortgage where you can make monthly payments, the amount you can repay may be based on your income. Providers will have to check that you can afford these regular payments.
  • Whether you can withdraw the equity you’re releasing in small amounts as and when you need it or whether you have to take it as one lump sum. The advantage of being able to take money out in smaller amounts is that you only pay the interest on the amount you’ve withdrawn. If you can take smaller lump sums, make sure you check if there’s a minimum amount.

Home reversion

Home reversion allows you sell some or all of your home to a home reversion provider. In return you’ll get a lump sum or regular payments. You will normally get between 20% and 60% of the market value of your home (or the part that you sell).

When considering a home reversion plan, you should check:

  • The minimum age at which you can take out a home reversion plan. Some home reversion providers insist that you are at least 60 or 65 before you can apply.
  • The percentage of the market value you will receive. This will increase the older you are when you take out the plan but may vary from provider to provider.
  • Whether or not you can release equity in several payments or in one lump sum.
  • You have the right to remain in your property for life or until you need to move to long-term care, provided the property remains your main residence and you abide by the terms and conditions of your contract. (Equity Release Council standard).
  • You have the right to move to another property subject to the new property being acceptable to your product provider as continuing security for your equity release loan (Equity Release Council standard).
  • The product has a “no negative equity guarantee”. This means that when your property is sold, and agents’ and solicitors’ fees have been paid, even if the amount left is not enough to repay the outstanding loan to your provider, neither you nor your estate will be liable to pay any more (Equity Release Council standard).

What level of maintenance you’ll be expected to carry out and how often your property will be inspected (this could be every few years).

Things you need to know about equity release

Equity release may seem like a good option if you want some extra money and don’t want to move house. However, there are important considerations:

  • Equity release can be more expensive in comparison to an ordinary mortgage. If you take out a lifetime mortgage you will normally be charged a higher rate of interest than you would on an ordinary mortgage and your debt can grow quickly if the interest is rolled up. It is worth pointing out that house price growth may also be evident. Your plan provider needs to factor in the safeguards they are providing you with (such as the no negative equity guarantee and a fixed interest rate for the life of the plan) in their calculations and can, therefore lend you at an interest rate that is different than that of an ordinary mortgage.
  • For lifetime mortgages, there is no fixed “term” or date by which you are expected to repay your loan. The rate of interest of a lifetime mortgage will not change during the life of your contract, unless you take any additional borrowing and it will only be applicable to that cycle of extra borrowing.
  • Home reversion plans will usually not give you anything near to the true market value of your home when compared to selling your property on the open market.
  • If you release equity from your home, you may not be able to rely on your property for money you need later in your retirement. For instance, if you need to pay for long-term care.
  • Although you can move home and take your lifetime mortgage with you, if you decide you want to downsize later on you may not have enough equity in your home to do this. This means you may need to repay some of your mortgage.
  • The money you receive from equity release may affect your entitlement to state benefits.
  • You will have to pay arrangement fees, which can reach approx. £1,500-£3,000 in total, depending on the plan being arranged.
  • If you’ve taken out an interest roll-up plan, there will be less for you to pass onto your family as an inheritance.
  • These schemes can be complicated to unravel if you change your mind.
  • There may be early repayment charges if you change your mind, which could be expensive, although they are not applicable if you die or move into long-term care.

Getting advice

If you are thinking of taking out an equity release product, you should take financial advice from an independent financial adviser.

All advisers recommending equity release schemes must have a specialist qualification. So if equity release is the right choice for you, they will be able to suggest the plan that is most suited to your needs by researching all the products in the market.

Check that your adviser:

  • searches the whole of market, so they can find the right plan for you
  • is on the Financial Conduct Authority register (you should search by the firm’s name) – a firm that is on the FCA register is regulated and must sign up to the Financial Ombudsman Service, which is a free-to-use complaints service if you’re unhappy with the service you receive
  • is a member of and on the Equity Release Council member directory, so that you can be sure that they abide by the trade body’s strict Rules and Standards which go beyond the basic regulatory requirements

Before you decide whether or not to take out an equity release product, ask the adviser:

  • what their fees are
  • what other fees you’ll have to pay (eg. legal, valuation, set up costs)
  • what type of equity release products they can offer

You can find FCA registered financial advisers who specialise in retirement planning in our Retirement adviser directory.

You can find an adviser with an equity release qualification on the Equity Release Council member directory.