We are in discussions with mortgage lenders about the scope for them to freeze benefit claimants’ mortgage accounts and apply a standard interest rate for a fixed period. In return for lenders receiving up-front interest payments from the Government, claimants getting help with their payments would not accrue any arrears or face the threat of repossession.
I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. Does he agree that, in these times, when perhaps there will be a lag in finding jobs, speed is of the essence, particularly for vulnerable people in our society, when making decisions about future support for mortgage interest?
We will certainly move as fast as we can on this issue. My hon. Friend may be aware that had we done nothing the higher rate of 6% was due to expire at the end of this year and revert, under the previous formula, to just over 2%. We felt that that was unfair, and we will pay 3.6%, which is the average mortgage rate.
The Council of Mortgage Lenders indicated that financial support from the Government for home owners who got into trouble was one of the key reasons fewer repossessions occurred in recent years than in other recessions. Given the impact of the reduced levels of support for mortgage interest relief and the cuts in housing benefit, does the Minister think that the number of people requiring financial support because they are homeless will be higher or lower than now at the end of next year?
The hon. Lady is very knowledgeable about housing matters and I welcome her to her new role. She may not be aware that we will spend more money in the next two years on support for mortgage interest for people who are out of work than the previous Government planned to do. They planned to cut support to 2%, which would have led to many more homelessness cases.