Equity release – what are the risks?

Equity release is when you unlock some of the wealth tied up in your home in order to raise a cash lump sum.

There are two types of equity release products in the market with some fundamental differences in how they work. Home reversion is when you sell a part of your home to an equity release provider. Lifetime mortgages are much more widely used and involve taking out a loan that is secured against your home, but you remain the sole owner of your property.

According to the Equity Release Council, lifetime mortgages made up the vast majority of all equity release plans taken out in 2020.

All equity release products are high risk and won’t be suitable for everyone. Current rules from the financial services regulator the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) require you to speak to a qualified financial advisor before you are able to take out an equity release product to ensure that it is suitable for your circumstances and that you understand the long term implications of doing so.

For some, equity release can be useful in a number of circumstances – for example where they are looking to:

  • Clear an existing mortgage
  • Fund home improvements
  • Supplement your retirement income
  • Gift money to loved ones

Looking for equity release help?

We’ve partnered with Key Advice Group, a member of the Equity Release Council, who have an “excellent” customer service rating on Trustpilot. If you are interested in a free, no obligation conversation with one of their equity release specialists to see what type of equity release product might be suitable for you, you can request a free callback here.

What are the risks of equity release?

Taking money out of your property through equity release can have a number of significant implications for tax, benefits, inheritance and your long-term financial planning.

Some key questions to consider are:

Inheritance planning

If you take out a lifetime mortgage or sell a share of your property through a home reversion scheme then you will reduce the amount of inheritance you will be able to leave to leave your loved ones, potentially significantly. Make sure you understand what the total cost of borrowing could be under various different scenarios.

Your age

The longer an equity release plan is in place, the higher the total cost of borrowing can be. This is because of the compounding effect of the interest you owe starting to be charged on top of existing interest. You can avoid this happening by choosing to pay back the interest monthly on the money you owe. If you don’t do this, the longer your equity release plan is in place, the higher the total cost of borrowing. While no-one can predict the future, the younger you are when you take out an equity release product, the more likely it is that the plan will be in place for a longer period of time.

Benefit entitlements

Taking a cash lump sum through equity release could affect your entitlement to means tested benefits such as Pension Credit, Universal Credit or Housing Benefit. Any money released wll be classed as ‘capital’ in eligibility assessments for means tested benefits which can impact your entitlement to claim them. Read more about how lump sum payments and savings can affect means-tested benefits here.

Ongoing terms and conditions

Your equity release provider will place restrictions and conditions on you continuing to live in your own home. This could be as simple as requiring you to maintain suitable buildings insurance to protect the property, or they could impose restrictions on the type and nature of home improvements you can make. Most will expect you to look after the property and maintain it in a reasonable condition. Always ensure you understand what conditions your lender is asking you to comply with.

Ability to move home

Can you move your equity release plan to a different home if you want or need to? What fees and charges will be payable if you do? What restrictions are there on the type of property you can move to? While many plans are portable, they don’t allow you to move to any property you wish as it will still need to meet your lender’s requirements of a suitable property.

Ability to change your mind

Equity release products can be difficult to unwind or cancel if you change your mind. At best, there may be hefty early repayment charges, in other instances, for example with home reversion, it may be impossible to unwind. This is why it’s a regulatory requirement to seek financial advice before taking out an equity release product to ensure it is suitable for you and you understand the long term implications.

No negative equity guarantee

If you aren’t able to pay the monthly interest on the money you release from your property then the total amount you owe can grow significantly over time as interest starts to get charged on existing interest, compounding the effect. This could even mean that you would end up owing more than the value of your home. Thankfully this can be easily prevented by using a provider who has signed up to the industry trade body, the Equity Release Council who require all their members to sign up to a no negative equity guarantee. It’s therefore essential to only use an equity release provider who has signed up to be a member of the Equity Release Council and follows its code of conduct.

Fees and charges

In addition to the cost of the interest payments accumulating there are a number of additional fees and charges to be aware of. These include a financial advice fee, an arrangement fee to the equity release provider. Property legal and valuation fees; buildings insurance and ongoing property maintenance costs. These can add up to anywhere between £1,000 and 3,000.

Where can I get advice on equity release

If you’re considering equity release, in the UK it’s currently a regulatory requirement from the financial regulator the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) that you speak to a qualified financial advisor to ensure that it is suitable for your circumstances, and that you are making an informed decision.

It’s essential that you only use an advisor who is trained in equity release and can recommend a suitable product for you from a member of the Equity Release Council (ERC) to ensure that a number of minimum product standards are met, which help safeguard borrowers.

If you’re looking to speak with someone to understand more about equity release, we’ve partnered with Key Group who are one of the more established providers and offer free advice on their range of equity release products. They are a member of the Equity Release Council and have an excellent customer service rating on Trustpilot. If you are interested in a free, no obligation conversation with one of Key’s equity release specialists, you can request a callback here.

If you’re looking for more information on equity release and how it works you can find more information in the following articles:

See how much wealth you could unlock from your home with this free, easy to use calculator. Fill in a few details to get an estimate – and if you’d like some advice, arrange to speak to an expert.

Links with an * by them are affiliate links which help Rest Less stay free to use as they can result in a payment or benefit to us. You can read more on how we make money here.

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