Stop and search: new deals for key workers

Still locked out of home ownership? Laura Howard looks at special mortgage offers that can give public sector staff the last push over the threshold
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The Independent Online

When anyone decides to become a key worker, such as a police officer or nurse, they do so in the full knowledge it won't make them rich.

But in the past 10 years, with house prices rising by 189 per cent according to the Halifax, they may well have given up on owning their own home too.

There has been some hope this month for key workers living in London: data from property website Rightmove.co.uk reveals that asking prices in the capital actually fell by 0.1 per cent in the first two weeks of August.

Public sector staff elsewhere in the UK may also take comfort from a small climb of 0.6 per cent, on average, during the same period – the fourth month in a row in which prices have risen by less than 1 per cent.

But clouding these glimmers of sunshine are a number of darker truths for those least able to afford the first rung of the property ladder. Foremost among these is that the price rises in August have so far loaded around £1,473 on to the value of the average UK home, pushing the cost up to £241,474, says Rightmove.

Rather than waiting for house prices to fall, key workers may be better off looking at deals tailor-made for their line of work. Last week, Scottish Widows offered its own lifeline by launching a mortgage that gives a boost to those working in certain sectors such as prisons, the police, the fire service and some roles in the military and the NHS.

If your profession is one of the 16 on the bank's list, you will be able to borrow 102 per cent of the value of a property at up to five times a single salary – as long as you earn at least £25,000 per year. Joint applicants will be able to borrow as much as 4.5 times the combined salary, also depending on their level of income.

Critically, the Scottish Widows deal takes "shift allowances" into account – the extra earnings gained from working unsociable hours. "Regular night shifts, for example, are very common with jobs such as nursing and firefighting," says Paul Ferguson, spokesperson for the bank. "Providing it is sustainable, there is no reason why the extra income shouldn't be factored into affordability."

However commendable your profession, the flexibility and high loan-to-value of the mortgage will cost you. For the two-year fixed- rate version of the deal, key workers will be charged 6.54 per cent to borrow the full amount, as well as a hefty arrangement fee of £1,250. If you go for a fee-free option, the rate will climb steeply to 6.84 per cent. This compares, for example, to a mainstream two-year fix from Bradford & Bingley priced at 5.99 per cent with a £999 fee – although borrowers will need a 5 per cent deposit to qualify.

Scottish Widows' deal is designed as an alternative to the Government's Open Market HomeBuy scheme, launched last October. This is aimed primarily at key workers but extends to social housing tenants and priority first-time buyers.

Open Market HomeBuy works on a shared equity basis: although the buyer can take a 100 per cent mortgage, it can only be for 75 per cent of the value of the property. The remaining 25 per cent, referred to as the "equity loan", is stumped up in equal measure by the Government and the lender that participates in the scheme – one of the Halifax, the Nationwide or Yorkshire building societies, or Advantage (part of the Morgan Stanley group.)

While only having to qualify for three-quarters of the property's value solves initial affordability problems, when key workers come to sell, they will only benefit from the same proportion of equity gains.

For example, if a house was bought for £200,000, the equity loan would be £50,000 – £25,000 each from the lender and the Government and advanced on favourable terms.

But if the house was then sold for £300,000, the profit would be divided into £75,000 for the borrower and £12,500 each for the lender and the Government.

"Open Market HomeBuy is ideal for key workers who are simply unable to buy a house on their own, while the Scottish Widows mortgage is for those who just need a boost in borrowing and have not managed to save for a deposit," says James Cotton of mortgage broker London & Country. "The surplus 2 per cent of the loan from Scottish Widows, which is available on completion, can also be put towards stamp duty and legal fees."

Whether it is a good time to be taking out a mortgage beyond the property value in the first place is a matter of personal judgement, according to Mr Cotton. "There were people who took the risk on a 100 per cent-plus loan two years ago, when we thought we had hit the top of the housing market, and they are now glad they did," he says.

"However, it's not something to be taken lightly and buyers should be extra confident about the property and its location, as well as being aware that they may not be able to move for a few years."

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