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7 Jun 2019

15 things you need to know about the Help to Buy scheme

New-build housing scheme has helped 210,000 people, but there are pitfalls
Row of new homes

'Should I use Help to Buy?' is one of the most commonly asked questions by first-time buyers looking to get on to the property ladder.

And in truth, it's difficult to give a definitive answer either way. On one hand, the scheme has helped more than 200,000 home buyers, but it's also faced accusations of inflating house prices and lining developers' pockets, not to mention the difficulties you could face when it comes to remortgaging or paying off the loan.

If you're considering Help to Buy, make sure you're aware of everything below before taking the leap.

Help to Buy: the basics

The Help to Buy equity loan scheme allows buyers to purchase a new-build home with a 5% deposit plus an equity loan from the government and a mortgage for the remaining balance.

The size of the loan varies depending on where you live. In England, you can borrow up to 40% of the property price if you're buying in London and 20% in the rest of the country, with loans available on properties priced up to £600,000.

Between April 2013 and the end of last year, 210,964 properties had been bought with an equity loan in England, with 81% of these going to first-time buyers.

1. Help to Buy works differently around the UK

The Help to Buy schemes in Scotland and Wales work slightly differently from the English version.

In Scotland, you can obtain a 15% equity loan on a new-build home priced up to £200,000. The biggest difference from the English scheme is that the loan is interest-free for its lifetime, rather than just the first five years.

In Wales, the maximum equity loan is 20% on new-build properties priced up to £300,000. As with the English scheme, interest kicks in after five years.

There is currently no equity loan scheme in operation in Northern Ireland.

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2. There's a special scheme for Armed Forces personnel

People in the Armed Forces can borrow up to 50% of their salary interest-free to use as a house deposit, under the Forces Help to Buy scheme.

Loans are capped at £25,000 and must be repaid over 10 years.

Forces Help to Buy is set to run until the end of this year, when its future will be reviewed.

3. Help to Buy homes can be expensive

Critics of Help to Buy say that it plays a role in inflating house prices. And while it's normal that new-builds might cost more than existing properties, the size of this gap lends legitimacy to the criticism.

When we look at the median prices paid by people using Help to Buy and compare them to the overall house price figures for England, we see a gap of around 25%.

Help to Buy (Q4, 2018)Overall (Q4, 2018)
Average first-time buyer price£259,995£207,341
Average non-first-time buyer price£319,950£280,749

Source: HM Treasury & Land Registry House Price Index

You can check whether you're likely to be able to afford to buy using the scheme with our Help to Buy calculator.

4. You'll have fewer mortgages to choose from

One of the benefits of using an equity loan is that you can take out a smaller mortgage - 75% LTV in England and Wales, 55% in London or 80% in Scotland - unlocking cheaper rates than if you took out a standard 95% mortgage.

The downside is that some of the best deals out there simply aren't available to people using Help to Buy.

It's still possible to get a good rate, but you might need to shop around more or consider taking advice from a mortgage broker, who can scour the market to find you the right mortgage.

5. Equity loan interest can add thousands to your payments

In England and Wales, equity loans are interest-free for the first five years. After this, interest kicks in at a rate of 1.75%, and rises each year by any increase in the Retail Prices Index (RPI) plus 1%.

The government uses a representative RPI of 5% in its calculations, which we've replicated in the tables below.

On a £200,000 home (with a £40,000 equity loan), you could theoretically find yourself paying nearly £900 a year in interest after 10 years of ownership.

YearRPI + 1%Annual interestAnnual cost (plus £1 monthly admin fee)

6. You might pay more interest if you lose out in the lottery

Recent research by Money Saving Expert found that some Help to Buy homeowners face higher interest bills simply because of the month they bought their property.

According to the research, the rate of interest payable on an equity loan doesn't rise on the anniversary of the date when you bought the property. Instead, it increases from 1 April the following year.

This means that theoretically, a homeowner could find themselves on the 1.75% rate for as many as 15 months or as few as three months before their rate increases.

7. You'll need to pay fees for home improvements

Buying through Help to Buy means you own your property and can do what you want with it - subject to clauses and fees, that is.

The most surprising fee charged to homeowners is for home improvements. To apply for permission to make a significant change to your property, you'll need to pay a £50 fee - even if you own the property on a freehold basis.

Perhaps less surprisingly, permission to let the property out also carries a £50 charge.

8. You can't put a Help to Buy Isa bonus towards your exchange deposit

If you've used a Help to Buy Isa to save for a deposit, you'll be looking forward to getting your hands on the 25% bonus offered by the government.

One thing to be aware of, however, is that you can't use this bonus towards your exchange deposit - the deposit you pay when you exchange contracts with the seller. This is because the bonus is paid on completion.

Exchange deposits are typically 10% of the purchase price. If you've only got a 5% deposit and are relying on the Isa bonus to make up part of this, you should ask your property solicitor (conveyancer) to negotiate a lower exchange deposit.

9. You'll need to inform your Isa provider before getting your bonus

When you buy a property using Help to Buy, your bonus will be paid to your conveyancer, rather than directly to you.

This means that you shouldn't simply withdraw the cash from your Help to Buy Isa when you're ready to buy a home. By doing so you could miss out on the bonus entirely.

Instead, you'll need to formally close your account and get a closing statement from your Isa provider. Once you've got this, you can pass it on to your conveyancer, who will then apply for your bonus.

You should only close your account if you're ready to buy a home, as you'll need to claim your bonus within 12 months of closure.

10. Your conveyancer can charge you to process the bonus

Unfortunately, nothing is free (particularly when it comes to buying property), and you'll need to take a small financial hit when claiming your bonus.

According to the scheme's rules, your conveyancer can charge you a maximum of £50 plus VAT (£60 in total) to process the bonus.

11. The equity loan is a percentage, not a set amount

The equity loan you borrow from the government is on a percentage of the property, and isn't worth a 'set' figure.

This means that when you come to pay the loan off, either by remortgaging, selling the home or settling the debt with savings, you're highly likely to be paying a different amount than you originally borrowed.

For example, if you took out a 20% equity loan of £40,000 on a £200,000 house and it's now worth £250,000, you'll need to pay back 20% of the current value, which is £50,000 - an extra £10,000 on top of what you borrowed.

If your property value drops, you'll pay back less than what you borrowed.

12. Remortgaging with an equity loan can be tricky

The number of Help to Buy remortgaging options has improved in the last year or so, but there's still some distance to go.

For example, most remortgaging deals are only available if you pay off your equity loan, and some products allow you to take on extra borrowing to settle the debt.

Products that allow you to keep the equity loan outstanding are less common, though these can be found by shopping around or taking advice from a broker.

When remortgaging, you'll be charged a fee of £115 by Homes England for the privilege.

13. It's possible to pay off part of your equity loan

If you take the maximum equity loan (in England), you'll owe the government 20% of your property's value.

It's possible to buy out some of this stake through a process called 'staircasing'.

When staircasing, you can purchase chunks of 10% of the property's value. This could be particularly useful if you're buying in London with a 40% equity loan and want to pay off the loan in parts.

When staircasing, you'll need to pay for a valuation plus an administration fee of £200.

14. It'll cost you extra to pay off the loan

By now, you won't be surprised to hear that there are fees involved for settling the loan, too.

First of all, you'll need to pay for a formal valuation of the property from a Rics-accredited valuer.

Then, you'll also need to pay an administration fee of £200 to close the account.

15. Help to Buy will be overhauled from 2021

Help to Buy as we know it will soon be confined to the history books, with the government set to overhaul the English scheme from April 2021.

From then, equity loans will only be available to first-time buyers, and the maximum amount you'll be able to spend on a property will be capped according to which region of England you live in.

The proposed price caps have already faced criticism, but at time of writing they're as follows:

RegionPrice cap
North East£186,100
North West£224,400
Yorkshire & The Humber£228,100
East Midlands£261,900
West Midlands£255,600
East of England£407,400