Five questions answered on the new mortgage rules

Will affect 1 million borrowers.

The FSA has announced they will be introducing a new set of rules for mortgage lending. We answer five questions on these new rules.

What is the basic gist of the new rules?

Borrowers must satisfy mortgage lenders they can repay the mortgage – mortgage lenders must in turn check these assurances. Those looking to borrow from an interest only mortgage must prove they are not relying on rising house prices alone to repay the home loan. There will be no age limit on taking out a mortgage. If you earn more than £300,000 or have more than £3 million in assets you will face a less stringent assessment. Borrowers trapped in old mortgage deals will be given some leeway to remortgage, despite these new laws.

Why are the FSA introducing these new rules?

To curb risky lending. The FSA want to encourage more responsible lending and borrowing in the mortgage market to avoid a repeat of risky lending that saw many homes on the brink of being reposed during the financial collapse.

When these new regulations come into action?

These new regulations will come into effect on the 26 April 2014. However, many of these practices are already being used by mortgage lenders.

What will this mean for people trying to get on the property ladder?

That it will be a longer, more thorough process getting a mortgage and self-certified mortgages – where the lender does not seek proof of income – will effectively be ruled out. This may make it harder for around 11.3 per cent of borrowers (1.3 million) and in particular self-employed workers to get a mortgage.

What have the FSA said?

Martin Wheatley, managing director of the FSA and CEO-designate of the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), said: “These new rules will help create a more sustainable market that works well for everyone, whether they are a borrower or a lender.

“We recognise that many lenders are now using a far more sensible set of lending criteria than before, but it is important that these common sense principles are hard-wired into the system to protect borrowers.

“We want borrowers to feel confident that poor practices of the past, which led to hardship and anxiety, are not repeated.  At the heart of the new measures is an affordability test to check borrowers can meet the repayments of the mortgage they want.

“To ensure the measures are effective but practical we spent a great deal of time discussing our proposals with consumers, firms, parliamentarians and numerous other stakeholders. I am therefore very confident that we have come up with a set of rules that are proportionate and sensible, and will create a more sustainable mortgage market where consumers are put at the heart of every decision.”

The FSA have announced new rules. Photograph: Getty Images

Heidi Vella is a features writer for

Photo: Getty Images
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A simple U-Turn may not be enough to get the Conservatives out of their tax credit mess

The Tories are in a mess over cuts to tax credits. But a mere U-Turn may not be enough to fix the problem. 

A spectre is haunting the Conservative party - the spectre of tax credit cuts. £4.4bn worth of cuts to the in-work benefits - which act as a top-up for lower-paid workers - will come into force in April 2016, the start of the next tax year - meaning around three million families will be £1,000 worse off. For most dual-earner families affected, that will be the equivalent of a one partner going without pay for an entire month.

The politics are obviously fairly toxic: as one Conservative MP remarked to me before the election, "show me 1,000 people in my constituency who would happily take a £1,000 pay cut, then we'll cut welfare". Small wonder that Boris Johnson is already making loud noises about the coming cuts, making his opposition to them a central plank of his 

Tory nerves were already jittery enough when the cuts were passed through the Commons - George Osborne had to personally reassure Conservative MPs that the cuts wouldn't result in the nightmarish picture being painted by Labour and the trades unions. Now that Johnson - and the Sun - have joined in the chorus of complaints.

There are a variety of ways the government could reverse or soften the cuts. The first is a straightforward U-Turn: but that would be politically embarrassing for Osborne, so it's highly unlikely. They could push back the implementation date - as one Conservative remarked - "whole industries have arranged their operations around tax credits now - we should give the care and hospitality sectors more time to prepare". Or they could adjust the taper rates - the point in your income  at which you start losing tax credits, taking away less from families. But the real problem for the Conservatives is that a mere U-Turn won't be enough to get them out of the mire. 

Why? Well, to offset the loss, Osborne announced the creation of a "national living wage", to be introduced at the same time as the cuts - of £7.20 an hour, up 70p from the current minimum wage.  In doing so, he effectively disbanded the Low Pay Commission -  the independent body that has been responsible for setting the national minimum wage since it was introduced by Tony Blair's government in 1998.  The LPC's board is made up of academics, trade unionists and employers - and their remit is to set a minimum wage that provides both a reasonable floor for workers without costing too many jobs.

Osborne's "living wage" fails at both counts. It is some way short of a genuine living wage - it is 70p short of where the living wage is today, and will likely be further off the pace by April 2016. But, as both business-owners and trade unionists increasingly fear, it is too high to operate as a legal minimum. (Remember that the campaign for a real Living Wage itself doesn't believe that the living wage should be the legal wage.) Trade union organisers from Usdaw - the shopworkers' union - and the GMB - which has a sizable presence in the hospitality sector -  both fear that the consequence of the wage hike will be reductions in jobs and hours as employers struggle to meet the new cost. Large shops and hotel chains will simply take the hit to their profit margins or raise prices a little. But smaller hotels and shops will cut back on hours and jobs. That will hit particularly hard in places like Cornwall, Devon, and Britain's coastal areas - all of which are, at the moment, overwhelmingly represented by Conservative MPs. 

The problem for the Conservatives is this: it's easy to work out a way of reversing the cuts to tax credits. It's not easy to see how Osborne could find a non-embarrassing way out of his erzatz living wage, which fails both as a market-friendly minimum and as a genuine living wage. A mere U-Turn may not be enough.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.