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Published 26 October 2021

Mortgages for Key Workers

The Key Worker Living Programme ended in 2019, but there are a number of other mortgage initiatives available to key workers to help them get on the property ladder. Read on to learn how to get a mortgage as a key worker and support schemes available.

From doctors and nurses to teachers, firefighters and the police, key workers keep our country going. But while key workers provide vital frontline services, lower salaries often mean they find it harder to get a mortgage than those people who sit behind a desk all day.

Unfortunately, the government’s Key Worker Living Programme – which helped public sector workers buy homes at affordable prices – was scrapped in 2019. However, there are other schemes and initiatives, which can help key workers buy their own homes. And some lenders may also look favourably on your occupation.

How to get a key worker mortgage

Like many first-time buyers, the main challenge for key workers is usually affordability. This means proving you have sufficient income to meet your regular monthly repayments, and having enough cash to put down as deposit.

As a starting point, it’s worth talking to a mortgage broker to find out how much you are likely to be able to borrow.

If affordability is an issue, a broker will be able to direct you to a lender that may be more flexible and look on your occupation favourably. Even though you may not have a high income now, lenders may like the fact that you will not struggle to find work and that your career prospects are likely to improve.

Brokers will also offer you access to specialist lenders that you cannot apply to directly.

Certain highly trained key workers – such as doctors, accountants and vets – may also be able to qualify for a specialist professional mortgage that offers more flexible underwriting criteria and often larger loans.

While specific key worker mortgage schemes aren’t common, they do exist, and a mortgage advisor should be able to help find one for you. You may find features of these mortgages include lending up to five times income, or consider income from overtime or second jobs. If you are in the armed forces, The Forces Help to Buy scheme is still available.

» MORE: Pros and cons of the Help to Buy scheme

Other support for key workers

Even if you are not eligible for a key worker specific mortgage scheme, you may still be able to take advantage of other homeownership schemes, which are available to all.

These include:

Help to Buy: Equity Loan

The Help to Buy: Equity Loan scheme offers borrowers in England with a 5% deposit a loan worth up to 20% of the property price (40% in London) to support the purchase of a new-build property. The loan is interest-free for five years. Those buying in Wales can make use of the same scheme, though with a maximum home value of £250,000.

In Scotland, the Help to Buy Affordable New-Build scheme has closed to new applicants, but there is a Low Cost Initiative for First Time Buyers. For more details, visit Gov.Scot. There is currently no alternative available for buyers in Northern Ireland.

Shared ownership

Shared ownership enables people that cannot afford to buy their home outright to purchase a part of it from a housing association, and pay rent on the remainder – it does not mean you share the purchase of your home with someone else.

Over time, you can increase your stake in the property in a process known as staircasing. In many properties it is possible to increase your stake to 100%, though in some – more often in leasehold properties – there may be a cap.

Social HomeBuy

Similar to shared ownership, Social HomeBuy enables tenants renting homes from housing associations or local authorities in England to buy a share in their home. Starting at an initial 25%, buyers can gradually increase their ownership of the property to 100%. Rent is reduced as the tenant’s stake in their property grows.

Northern Ireland runs its own House Sales Scheme, where tenants of social housing landlords have the right to buy their homes at a discount.

Discounts on new-builds

Some house builders may also offer discounts on new-build properties for key workers, for example £500 for every £25,000 of the purchase price. Find out what discounts may be available before you talk to a mortgage broker or apply for a loan. Discounts may also be used in combination with a Help to Buy loan.

What about the First Homes scheme?

Launched in June 2021, the long-awaited First Homes scheme offers discounts of at least 30% (rising to 50% in pricier areas) off the sale price of certain new-build properties to eligible buyers.

To qualify for the scheme, buyers must be purchasing their first home and have a household income below £80,000 (£90,000 in London), and be using a mortgage to fund at least 50% of the purchase. However, as the scheme is intended to help local buyers and to ensure key workers can find affordable housing in the area, local authorities can set their own eligibility criteria too, prioritising key workers in essential services, for example.

» MORE: What you need to know about the First Homes Scheme

The 5% mortgage guarantee scheme

As the number of lenders prepared to lend at 95% has dwindled in recent years, the government launched a new guarantee scheme in April 2021 to encourage lenders to offer borrowers loans with just a 5% deposit. The scheme is open to both first-time buyers and home movers.

To reduce risk for lenders, the government has agreed to compensate them for any proportional losses they may suffer as a result of offering a high deposit loan.

» MORE: How the 5% deposit programme works

How to apply

If you are using a broker to help you find the right mortgage, they will put your application in on your behalf. Should you find a mortgage from a mainstream lender you can apply directly – however it’s worth noting that many specialist lenders only deal with brokers, so it can make sense to get advice to ensure you get the best deal.

If you are purchasing a new-build property, your house builder will be able to give you information about schemes including First Homes and Help to Buy: Equity Loans. To apply for shared ownership, you will have to contact a housing association – but you can search for available properties online.

Brokers and lenders will also be able to give you details of any home-buying schemes you may be eligible for.

» MORE: How a mortgage adviser can help you

Image source: Getty Images

About the Author

Rachel Lacey

Rachel Lacey is a freelance journalist with 20 years experience. She specialises in personal finance and retirement planning and is passionate about simplifying money matters for all.

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