Treasury written question – answered on 24th November 2022.
To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer, whether he has had recent discussions with Cabinet colleagues on the potential merits of (a) providing support to and (b) bringing forward proposals to help cap mortgage interest rates for people who have been required to pay high standard variable rates since 2008.
The cohort of borrowers referred to in this question are so-called mortgage prisoners. The Financial Conduct Authority’s (FCA) review into mortgage prisoners, published in November 2021, found that the population of mortgage prisoners is varied and complex. There is no single measure to address all of the circumstances this population of mortgage holders face.
The Government has worked with the FCA to implement changes to its mortgage lending rules, removing the regulatory barrier that prevented some customers, who otherwise may have been able to switch, from accessing new products. Any further work on this issue must consider the practicality of solutions and their effects on the wider mortgage market, including the resilience of firms and fairness to other borrowers.
A cap on the Standard Variable Rates (SVRs) charged by inactive firms would be an unprecedented market intervention and would undermine the principle of risk-based pricing that underlies the mortgage market. It would entail risks to the financial stability of firms, who would be unable to vary their rates in line with their funding costs, and would be unfair to borrowers in the wider mortgage market who pay similar rates to mortgage prisoners. It is also important to note that the SVRs charged by inactive firms are in line with those paid by borrowers in the active market.
Ultimately, the pricing of mortgages is a commercial decision for lenders. However, if mortgage borrowers do fall into financial difficulty, FCA guidance requires firms to provide support through tailored forbearance options. The Government has also taken a number of measures aimed at helping people to avoid repossession, including Support for Mortgage Interest loans for those in receipt of an income-related benefit, and protection in the courts through the Pre-Action Protocol, which makes clear that repossession must always be the last resort for lenders.
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