If you are paying off a mortgage and you are on remand, you may be able to get help with your repayments. This help is in the form of a loan, and will only cover the interest on your mortgage repayments. It can only be paid for a limited period of time and will only be paid if you were receiving Pension Credit or Income Support before being remanded into custody.
Support for mortgage interest (SMI)
Support for Mortgage Interest (SMI) can be paid to some homeowners who have been receiving income related Employment and Support Allowance, income based Jobseeker's Allowance, Income Support and Pension Credit.
This support is a loan which you'll have to pay back, with interest, when you sell or transfer ownership of your home. You can find out more about this process here.
If you were already receiving support for mortgage interest when you were remanded into custody, these payments may continue while you are on remand. If you were not already getting SMI your partner may be able to claim SMI if he or she receives certain income related benefits.
If you were working before you were taken into custody or weren't receiving the necessary qualifying benefits, you may be able to get Support for Mortgage Interest when you are first remanded by claiming Income Support or Pension Credit. Ask to see a benefits adviser or housing adviser in your prison to discuss this.
SMI can only be paid while you are on remand. If your remand status changes and you are given a sentence, you will not be entitled to support for your mortgage interest.
Waiting times for SMI
Until 31 March 2016, you had to wait 13 weeks after making your application for the original benefit before you would get any help with your mortgage.
From 1 April 2016, this waiting period increases to 39 weeks. That is a long time to wait for financial heIp and you will need to cover your mortgage without relying on this scheme until payments start. This might mean you build up arrears so you may still need to ask your mortgage provider to reschedule the payments to take account of your situation. Ask to see a benefits adviser or housing adviser in your prison if you are concerned that your mortgage payments will fall into arrears while you are in custody.
Other ways of dealing with mortgage payments
Arrears can easily build up if you fail to meet your mortgage payments. If you’re struggling to keep up, ask your lender to put off your payments until your release. This is known as a “payment holiday”. You could also try asking your lender to agree to an alternative payment plan or lengthen the term of your loan.
It is very important that you talk to your lender as soon as you know you won’t be able to meet the repayments. Ask to speak to the prison's Housing Advice Development Worker if you are concerned about mortgage arrears.
Help with other housing costs
Homeowners who are in prison may also qualify for help with their rates. You will only be able to request rates relief for 52 weeks if you are on remand, or for 13 weeks if you are sentenced and your total time in prison does not exceed this period.
You can apply for an exclusion from rates if you're in detention and are therefore unable to live in your home. However, to qualify for this exclusion there must be noone else living in your home and it must be cleared of all furniture.