Mum-of-three Amanda Lawrence was unable to pay her mortgage after becoming unwell
As she fielded calls from bailiffs and pleaded with her mortgage lender, mum-of-three Amanda Lawrence spent every moment thinking about what she would do if she lost her family home.
The family found out the day before their eviction hearing that their mortgage rescue application had been successful and, thanks to the scheme, are happy in their home 15 years later.
Amanda said: “I was spending all my time on the phone to the mortgage company, explaining: ‘We can’t pay you. Please don’t evict us.’”
Amanda moved into her house in Gibbonsdown, Barry, with her 10-year-old son in 1998 and initially rented from Vale of Glamorgan Council. Her partner moved in two years later.
She was working part-time as an administrative assistant and he was working full-time in product safety. The couple decided to buy their home, with help from a government scheme, in 2003.
They became owners of the mid-terrace house, which was built in the 1970s and has three bedrooms and a garden. They got married and had two children.
“It was going really well – we were a happy family,” said Amanda. “But then things started to go wrong.”
Amanda suffered with pelvic pain during pregnancy. The pain, which usually goes away after birth, persisted but the condition was not diagnosed straight away.
“It took a long time to get a diagnosis and my health really deteriorated,” she said. “I couldn’t take the kids to school.”
Amanda was unable to return to work due to the pain and her life became a blur of hospital appointments.
She said the family reached a low point in 2008, as her husband desperately tried to juggle full-time work with caring for his wife and looking after the children.
“It was getting harder and harder,” she recalled. “He was trying to do everything and he just couldn’t do it anymore. He broke down.”
He left his job and became a full-time carer for Amanda. As they spent everything they had on their mortgage, the family could not afford repairs and lived in the cold when their boiler broke.
“It was the most stressful year of my life,” recalled Amanda. “I was spending all my time on the phone to the mortgage lender, explaining: ‘We can’t pay you.’
“I was pleading: ‘Please don’t evict us.’ They were quite understanding, but they still had to follow their procedures. I had calls from the bailiffs.
“We were constantly having to think about what we’d do if we lost our home. What would we put in storage? We were so overwhelmed, we didn’t know who to turn to. It was a very tense time for us.”
As they struggled to keep up with mortgage payments, the couple went to Citizens Advice and were referred to Shelter Cymru. Their caseworker suggested the mortgage rescue scheme.
Mortgage rescue is a scheme enabling a household to remain in their home through full or part-purchase, supported by grant funding, by a social or community landlord.
The tenure of the property changes so the household either rents the property – at a social or affordable rent – or becomes a part-owner, reducing their monthly outgoings.
“Our caseworker was lovely and we trusted her to help us,” explained Amanda. “She was the only one who actually took the time to update us and explain what was going on.
“She understood that she was fighting to keep us in our family home. To the mortgage company, it was just another property.”
The family were told the day before their eviction hearing that their application for mortgage rescue had been approved.
They became tenants of Newydd Housing Association, who carried out maintenance the family had not been able to afford, like repairing the boiler and shower and installing a wheelchair ramp.
Thanks to mortgage rescue, the family are still in their home 15 years on. Amanda, 51, who volunteers for a housing association, would like to see the scheme brought back to help other people.
She said: “Home, to us, is stability and safety – our sanctuary. I wish they would bring the scheme back. It saved our family. We were lucky, but I know of other people who have lost their homes.
“I worry about how bad it is now and how many families with young children are at risk. It’s heart-breaking.”
She accepts the scheme involves upfront costs, but believes it avoids further hidden expenditure down the line and offers value for money in the long-term.
Wendy Dearden, Policy and Public Affairs Manager for Shelter Cymru, said: “We are becoming increasingly worried about the impact of increased mortgage interest rates.
“We are concerned for current owners coming to the end of fixed-term arrangements and facing significant increases to their monthly payments.”
The Bank of England has predicted around four million UK households will face higher mortgage payments during 2023, with the typical payment up by £250.
That takes the average monthly mortgage bill from £750 to £1,000, which is expected to cause severe financial difficulty for 220,000 households.
Wendy added: “Most people can only imagine the stress of potentially losing a home which they have emotionally and financially invested in.
“The gauge on that stress moves ever higher each month as the arrears figures grow and the inevitability of the situation takes hold. For a growing number, this is becoming reality.”
Wendy explained that mortgage arrears and repossession cases still, thankfully, represent a small proportion of Shelter Cymru’s casework, but the numbers are beginning to rise.
There was a 45% increase from August to November 2022, compared with the same period in 2021 – the team saw 126 cases in 2022, compared to 87 in 2021.
Jennie Bibbings, Head of Campaigns for Shelter Cymru, said: “We recommend that the Welsh Government makes creating a new mortgage rescue scheme for Wales a priority now.”
23 January 2023
By Liz Day