Keeping up with mortgage repayments

It’s usually best to tell your mortgage lender about your cancer if you think you might have trouble making payments (or have already missed a payment). They can help you find a solution.

It can help to prepare some information about your personal situation and finances before speaking to your lender.

Your lender must follow conditions to help you keep your home. Your options might include:

  • reducing your mortgage payments or changing them to interest-only for a time
  • a payment holiday (break from payments)
  • extending the term of your mortgage
  • changing the interest you pay
  • claiming money from a health or life insurance policy to help cover your housing costs
  • taking ill-health retirement and claiming your pension early if you’re terminally ill or unable to return to work.

You might consider changing your mortgage to clear your debts in the short term. But this can be risky and you should talk to your lender or mortgage adviser before making any changes.

It can help to plan what should happen to your home if there’s a chance your illness could get worse.

Having trouble with mortgage payments

If you have a mortgage, you do not have to tell your mortgage lender about your cancer diagnosis. But it’s usually better for you to let them know, and to tell them about the possibility that you may have trouble with your payments, as soon as you can. The earlier you tell them, the more likely it is you’ll be able to find a solution together.

The best solution will depend on the following:

  • The type of mortgage you have – You should be able to find this out from your lender or your mortgage documents. Read more about different mortgage types.
  • Your age – For example, if you are older and close to retirement age, lenders may be less willing to take steps such as extending the mortgage term. If you are aged at least 55 and have some pension savings, you may be able to use these to pay off your mortgage. However, this will reduce the amount of retirement income you have later on. We have more information on pensions.
  • Your personal circumstances – This includes how much you owe, how much you can afford to pay each month and how many years are left on your mortgage.

If you are on a low income and qualify for certain income-based benefits, you may be able to receive help towards your mortgage interest and service charges. It’s important to get specialist guidance about your particular situation by contacting Macmillan or another organisation such as Citizens Advice. But the general points below may be helpful.

Contact your lender

If you think you will have problems paying your mortgage, or if you have already missed payments (you are in arrears), don’t wait until the problem becomes so big you can’t manage it. You should take action and contact your lender as soon as possible. If they don’t know about your situation, they won’t be able to help. And the sooner you deal with the situation, the more options you will have.

If your lender initially says they can’t help you until you have missed a payment, don’t be discouraged. Ask to speak to a manager or to the department that can offer help early. Most lenders have these departments or teams.

Don’t just miss or stop payments. Many lenders will charge a penalty if you do this. And even one missed payment can negatively affect your credit rating. A credit rating is an estimate of how able you are to pay back any money lent to you. All lenders have access to your credit rating. If you have a poor credit rating, you may have trouble borrowing money in future, and you may need to pay a higher rate of interest.

If you continually don’t meet mortgage payments or don’t speak to your lender, they could take serious actions against you. This could include taking you to court. Ultimately, it could lead to you losing your home. But this would only be a last option for your lender. If you’re facing serious actions like these, always seek specialist advice from your local council or charities such as Shelter, Citizens Advice or StepChange Debt Charity.

Tips for talking to your lender

Your lender will be able to talk to you about your personal situation and the options available. If you prepare some information before calling them, the conversation will be much easier. Here are some tips about the information you and your lender should share with each other.

Before you contact your lender, do the following:

  • Check whether you have an income protection or mortgage payment protection insurance policy (see below).
  • Check whether you are entitled to any benefits that may increase your income.
  • Have details of the money you have coming in (your income) and your spending (outgoings). It is important to make sure these details are accurate and realistic. Check your bank statements to see how much you regularly spend on your supermarket shopping and utility bills, such as gas and electricity.
  • Have details of how much you can afford to pay. Make sure this amount is realistic, and that you have left yourself enough money for food, heating and other essentials.
  • Have details of your diagnosis and the expected outcome of your cancer (your prognosis).

During the discussion, do the following:

  • Ask your lender whether they have a specialist team that helps vulnerable people.
  • Tell your lender any relevant details about your cancer diagnosis that you’re comfortable sharing. For example, tell them the type of cancer you have, what treatment you are having (or are due to have) and the effects that the cancer and its treatment are having on your everyday life.
  • If you can, tell your lender (or creditor) how your situation affects your income and your ability to manage money. A creditor is a business or person you owe money to. You could also tell them how your situation affects your ability to deal with them. For example, you could say whether you will be unable to take calls at certain times, how your medication may affect your memory or the amount of time you can talk to them in one phone call. You could tell them whether or not someone is helping you deal with your money related issues. If they know about these things, they’ll be able to tailor the way they work with you more easily.
  • Tell them the date when you expect your finances to return to normal, if you have an idea of when this might be.
  • Let them know about any claims you have or are planning to make on insurance or pension policies.
  • Ask how any of the options your lender suggests or offers will affect your mortgage payments when the period of extra help ends. You could also ask what you can do to reduce any negative impact on your credit rating.

What your lender must do

Your lender must follow a set of conditions to help you keep your home. These are called a pre-action protocol in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. They are called pre-action requirements in Scotland.

Your lender will need to:

  • tell you the exact amount you owe and any interest charges you’ll have to pay
  • consider any request from you to change the way you pay your mortgage
  • respond to any offer of payment you make.

If you continue to struggle with paying your mortgage, your lender needs to:

  • explain their reasons within 10 working days if they refuse your offer of payment
  • give you at least 15 working days’ written warning if they plan to start court action because you haven’t kept to a repayment agreement – this would only be a last option.

Options your lender may suggest

There are various options your lender may consider.

Depending on your situation, they might suggest ways to help you manage your payments. These may include the following:

  • Reducing your mortgage payments for a set period of time.
  • Changing your repayment to interest-only repayments for a set period of time. Remember you won’t be paying off the loan if you do this. Your payments will also be higher when you start repaying again.
  • Allowing you to take a break from paying. Some mortgage contracts include the ability to take a payment holiday (see below).
  • Extending the term of your mortgage.
  • Changing the interest rate you pay.

Payment holiday

A payment holiday is where you and your lender agree for you to take a temporary break from making regular mortgage payments. This is often a term that is included in your contract.

If a payment holiday is included in your mortgage deal, you won’t have to make any payments during the agreed period and your credit rating won’t be affected. In most cases, when you take a payment holiday, the payments you miss will be added to the total balance of your mortgage. This means your monthly payments may increase slightly when you start repaying again.

If you ask your lender for a payment holiday and it isn’t included in your mortgage deal, they may say no. But you should ask whether they’ll let you make nil payments for a short period.

If you can prove you will be able to restart full payments after the break, this will help your lender decide whether they can help. You should also ask whether this would affect your credit rating.

What you need to do

  • Be willing to provide your mortgage lender with written evidence of your health issues.
  • Show you are willing to make repayments of an amount that you can afford.
  • Pay what you can, when you can, even if you can’t afford your full monthly mortgage payments at the moment.
  • Get a written copy of any repayment arrangements you make with your lender.
  • Keep in regular contact with your lender and let them know about any changes in your situation.

For more information about your rights as a home owner, contact:

If you have health or life insurance

Check any health or life insurance policies you have. Your situation may mean you’re eligible to receive money from your insurer (a payout). This could increase your finances and help you cover any housing costs you’re struggling with.

Mortgage payment protection insurance

Many people are offered this type of insurance when they first arrange their mortgage. It pays your mortgage payments (and sometimes a bit extra) if you’re unable to work due to an accident, sickness or redundancy. The amount it pays out depends on how much cover you originally purchased.

If you have mortgage payment protection insurance, you should make a claim as soon as possible.

The payout usually starts after a waiting period of 1–2 months, although it can be longer. This is known as the period of notice. With some policies, payments are backdated to the start of the time when you stopped working. This is sometimes called ‘back to day one cover’.

Mortgage payment protection insurance can be useful temporarily. But it usually only pays out for up to around one year. It’s important to keep up the mortgage payments after that time to avoid any risk of losing your home.

Some mortgage payment protection insurance policies require you to keep paying the premiums while you are claiming. Make sure you know whether this is the case with your policy.

Income protection insurance

This pays out a monthly income if you are unable to work because of illness or disability.

You might have income protection insurance through your workplace. Check with your human resources (HR) department. If you do have it, your employer will deal with the claim and the payout is paid to you like ordinary pay, with tax and National Insurance deducted.

If you have taken out your own income protection insurance, you will have chosen the level of income it pays out when you first purchased the policy. You will also have chosen a waiting period (a delay between the start of the illness and the start of the insurance payout). This waiting period may be from one month to two years. The payout from a policy you arrange yourself is tax free.

The insurance usually carries on paying out until you either return to work or reach retirement age – whichever comes first. But some policies only pay out for a maximum term. For example, this could be five years, or less for short-term income protection policies. Some policies pay out less if you are able to return to work part-time. Remember to check whether you need to keep paying a premium while you claim.

If you claim benefits, they might be affected by an income protection insurance payout. Or your payout may be affected by the fact you get benefits. Speak to one of our financial guides on 0808 808 00 00 for more information.

Critical illness cover

This pays out a lump sum (single payment) that is tax-free if you are diagnosed with certain life-threatening health conditions. You may have purchased critical illness cover as a stand-alone insurance policy, or one that’s combined with life insurance. When it’s combined with life insurance, this is sometimes called life and critical illness cover.

Sometimes your employer will provide this cover as a benefit. You should check with your HR department at work to see whether your company offers this.

Because not every cancer diagnosis is considered life-threatening, not everyone diagnosed with cancer will be eligible for a payout under critical illness cover. Check the wording of the policy to see which cancers are covered. If the wording is not clear, contact the insurer.

Even if your cancer has not been severe enough to cause a payout on your critical illness insurance by itself, if you are left disabled so that you would never be able to go back to work, you may be able to claim under a ‘total and permanent disability’ clause. Depending on the policy, this might apply if you:

  • can’t do the same work as before
  • can’t do similar work
  • can’t do any work
  • can no longer do a specified number of work-related tasks.

Life insurance

There are four main types of life insurance:

  • Level-term assurance pays out a lump sum if you die within a set time period. The amount of the lump sum was agreed when you were setting up the policy, and it does not change.
  • Decreasing-term assurance is often taken out with repayment mortgages. The amount you are covered for decreases in line with the amount of mortgage you owe.
  • Whole-life insurance builds up in value and pays out if you die. It can be used as an investment, for protection, or both.
  • Endowment insurance pays out a lump sum if you die within a set time period. If you do not die within the term, it pays out at the end of the term. So this type of life insurance builds up an investment value. You will have taken out this type of insurance if you have an endowment mortgage. Some endowment policies will pay out if you are diagnosed with a critical illness.

Many life insurance policies include terminal illness cover. This means the insurer will pay out the full amount of the cover straight away if you’re expected to live less than 12 months. You can keep the payout even if you live longer. The money can be used for any purpose. You should check with your insurer to see whether this benefit is included in your policy.

Employers often offer life insurance to employees. This cover is usually available to every employee (up to a set value), whatever their state of health. Speak to your HR department at work to find out more. Many employers offer a type of life insurance called death-in-service benefit. This benefit guarantees a lump-sum payout if you die while working for that employer. You can usually choose who you would want this payment to go to (your beneficiaries). However, sometimes death-in-service payouts go into a discretionary trust, which means you can’t choose exactly who will benefit.

If you consider giving up your work due to ill health (see below), check with your employer what would happen to any life insurance cover they provide.

Ill-health retirement

If you are terminally ill, or unable to return to work, you may be able to take ill-health retirement. This is where you can start claiming a private or work-related (occupational) pension early if you have to stop working due to illness.

If you are not retiring, you might still be able to use your pension to help you cope with your mortgage. This is because since April 2015, provided you are aged at least 55, in many cases you can now draw out your pension savings as lump sums whenever you like. At least part of any lump sum will be taxed. Anything you draw out now will mean you have less income when you retire. So think carefully before using your pension in this way.

Call our financial guides on 0808 808 00 00 to find out more about these options.

You can also read more detailed information about pensions.

Changing your mortgage

If you have lots of other debts as well as your mortgage, you may be tempted to:

  • get a larger mortgage 
  • switch to another lender 
  • take out a consolidation loan (this allows you to pay back all your debts as one monthly payment). 

Changing your mortgage may let you clear your debts in the short term. But it can also be risky. Even if the interest rate is lower, it may still be difficult to afford payments. The low interest rate may only last for a few years and your payments may increase at the end of a discounted period. You may also have to pay fees to increase your mortgage or move to another lender. Lenders are required to check that you can afford your mortgage repayments. You may find you are refused a new mortgage even if you think you could manage the repayments.

You should speak with your existing lender and get their advice on how they can help before trying to get a new mortgage. If you still think you would like to change your mortgage, you should speak to an independent mortgage adviser before making any decisions.

If you are considering changing your mortgage because you are struggling to repay debts, you should get free, independent advice first from an organisation such as Shelter or StepChange Debt Charity.

If your illness gets worse

Many people with cancer recover, and treatments are getting better all the time. But if there is a chance that your illness may become more serious, it can help if you have planned in advance what should happen to your home.

If you need long-term care

If you go into a care home or hospice, but your spouse or a dependant is still living in your home, they will be allowed to continue living there.

Your local council (if you live in England, Scotland or Wales) or Health and Social Care Trust (if you live in Northern Ireland) may be able to pay for your stay in a care home, under certain conditions. However, your partner, relative or carer should check with your local council. This is because it is up to individual councils to decide what help they offer. Levels of support are different in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

If you don’t live with anyone, then a relative, partner or carer may be able to rent out your property on your behalf. You would need to have given them legal permission in advance to do this. With the correct permission, they may also be able to arrange for your home to be sold, so that the money can cover your long-term care fees. Your local authority may agree to lend you the cost of care home fees. This would be repaid once your home has been sold. This is called a deferred payment agreement.

We have more information on planning ahead and making advance decisions about what you want to happen if you become seriously ill.

If you die

If you die, your house (or share of it) will be part of your estate. Your estate is everything you own when you die. This means all of your possessions (including property), any money (including savings) and also any debts. Your estate is worked out by adding up everything you own minus everything you owe.

Your estate will be distributed in accordance with your will or. A will is legally binding instructions about who should inherit your estate when you die. Speak to a solicitor for advice about writing a will. Macmillan has a discounted will-writing service.

If you don’t have a will, your estate will be distributed in accordance with the law. Who your estate goes to depends on which UK country you live in.

Depending on your situation and where you live, if you have no will, your house (or share of it) may be passed on to:

  • a married or civil partner
  • close relatives, such as parents, children, brothers or sisters.

To find out the exact rules about inheritance when someone dies without a will in your country, use the online tool at GOV.UK

If you own your home with someone else

If you own your home jointly, depending on the way that you own it, your share may pass automatically to the other owner(s).

Joint tenancy/joint ownership is where everyone who owns the property has an equal share. When you die, the survivor(s) inherit your share. Under this option, you cannot give your share of the property to another person through a will. But your share still counts as part of your estate, for example when calculating whether any inheritance tax is due. Joint tenancy is the most common arrangement for owning a residential property. In Scotland, having a joint tenancy is known as having a survivorship destination and people with a share are called joint owners.

Tenancy in common/commonly owned property is where each owner holds their own individual share of the property, and the shares don’t have to be equal. This means that when you die, your share becomes part of your estate and is distributed in accordance with your will or the law. In Scotland, this is known as commonly owned property.

Call us on 0808 808 00 00 for information about planning ahead and to find out how we can support you.

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