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Householders are bracing themselves for triple whammy

By Helen Carson

Counselling agencies today said they fear an upsurge in debt for householders in Northern Ireland next year.

The proposed controversial introduction of water charges in April alongside increased rates bills for many will mean more misery for homeowners here who are already stretched to the limit, said a spokesperson for the Citizens' Advice Bureau (CAB).

Siobhan Harding, the organisation's information and policy officer, said debt in Northern Ireland rises every year, adding: "When you add water charges into the mix it makes people who are just making their mortgage repayments very vulnerable."

And with the average home in Belfast now at £204,000, householders will need to brace themselves for a triple whammy of increased costs.

Revised rates bills due next year, along with new water charges, will mean the average homeowner will have to dig deeper to pay their bills.

And industry experts are predicting another interest rate rise in the New Year, which will mean even more pressure on the pocketbooks of average homeowners.

The rates estimate for the average property in Belfast is in the region of £1,010, according to the Valuation and Lands Agency website.

And Mr and Mrs average homeowner could be facing a hike in their monthly mortgage repayments if interest rates go up again as predicted.

There were two interest rates rises this year of a quarter of a per cent, taking the Bank of England base rate up to five per cent.

Mr and Mrs Average, who paid a 5% deposit, already have monthly payments of up to £1,145.88 on a 25-year standard repayment mortgage (based on current base rate) - although most banks and building society's mortgage packages are higher than this.

And with water charges set to be phased in next April, the average home-owner will have to pay a yearly cost of £153, rising to £460 in the third year.

A spokesman for the Department of Regional Development said, like the rates, the capital value of properties in Northern Ireland will be set from January 2005 rather than the current market value.

There are also special tariffs for pensioners, low income households and those living in houses valued from £70,000- £100,000.

A spokesman said: "Approximately a quarter to a third of people in Northern Ireland could be entitled to reduced tariffs. Discounts would mean charges reduced to £45 from £60 in the first year."

And he added: "Income rather than capital value will play a greater part in terms of reduced tariffs."

He also pointed out meters will be installed from the start of the scheme in newly-built houses and in pensioners' homes, if they wish: "It would cost £120 million to introduce metering for all and it is thought to be disadvantageous to large families."

The advice to homeowners from CAB is to factor in all costs when getting a mortgage: "If they get an increased rates bill, will they still be able to pay their mortgage? Even the rising cost of fuel needs to be accounted for. Water charges and rates are bills that have to be paid."

Meanwhile, Nationwide Building Society is launching new mortgage prices from tomorrow.

Both new and existing customers will be able to take advantage of a new mortgage package.

It will include lower interest rates for those moving house and a fee-free mortgage for existing customers, a market-leading lifetime tracker mortgage with no reservation fee, competitive deals on further advances, interest calculated on a daily basis, no high lending charge for high percentage borrowing and flexible terms on new mortgages.

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph