The Sunday Times carried out a mystery shopping exercise with the three biggest equity release companies following a surge in people considering making use of the lifetime mortgage product. 

The 'paper tried to find out how much a 64-year-old woman would be able to release from her home using calculators on the websites of Sunlife, Key Retirement and Age Partnership. After making inquiries through the companies' websites The Sunday Times received 28 phone calls (sometimes two calls a day from the same company), 28 emails and 14 letters as the firms tried to persuade the 'potential customer' to sign up for a deal. All three providers responded to The Sunday Times's investigation.

Sunlife said its advice is impartial and looks at the whole market including alternative options. Age Partnership said prospects often enquire months or years before, and during that time they are provided with regular product updates. Key Retirement said it made sure customers receive specialist advice before proceeding with equity release and if it's not right for a customer they would be informed. There are concerns that equity release seems to be being used to encourage spending that is otherwise unaffordable, while being positioned as normal', further encouraging debt as a way of life.

It is, though, a solution that is right in the right circumstances. As ever, discuss with your financial adviser.

About the Author: Glen Callow

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