British couple Len and Val Fitzgerald planned to spend a peaceful old age in their little terrace house in Eastbourne on the southeast coast.

The Fitzgeralds, both 76, have invested many hours redecorating and improving their two-bedroom property to turn it into a quiet retirement haven for themselves and their beloved dog, Millie.

But now the couple, who have never missed a mortgage payment, are being taken to court for an eviction hearing by their UK bank, Santander.

If the judge sides with Santander, the Fitzgeralds face being turfed out of the home where they have lived for 15 years.


And in all likelihood, they will have to leave the resort town of Eastbourne and give Millie to an animal shelter.

The Fitzgeralds are among the worst-hit victims of Britain's interest-only mortgage crisis.

About 1.67 million people in the UK have one of these deals, with tens of thousands due to mature in the next few years.

Like other customers sold this type of home loan in the 1990s and 2000s, the Fitzgeralds haven't had to repay a penny of the capital until now. Instead, they only paid the interest each month.

But large numbers of borrowers are predicted to reach the end of their loan term and face demands for cash they haven't got.

This is usually because lenders in the UK failed to check how they would repay the debt — or because the investments the borrower made have failed to grow quickly enough.

Most UK lenders offer struggling borrowers some leeway, such as a few extra years to pay up.

But only until a certain age.


The Fitzgeralds were refused an extension when their loan matured in December 2015 because it would have left them in debt after the age of 75 — Santander's age limit for mortgage lending.

For three years, the couple tried to negotiate with the bank, arguing that they were still able to pay the £770-a-month ($1500) mortgage bill from their £1300 ($2522) joint income and £200 ($388) of mortgage interest support from the Government.

But the bank finally reached the end of its patience in January. It began legal proceedings to repossess the property and told the couple to attend a court hearing in April.

The UK couple will battle Santander in court. Photo / Getty Images
The UK couple will battle Santander in court. Photo / Getty Images

Local MP Stephen Lloyd then wrote to Santander on the Fitzgeralds' behalf, asking it to extend its age limit for lending.

But Santander has offered just a two-month extension, in which the couple must try to sell their property. They then have up to six more months to conclude the deal. Even if they can sell the £260,000 ($504,000) house, they will have to hand £180,000 ($350,000) of it to the bank immediately.

That will leave just £80,000 ($155,000) — too little to enable the couple to buy another property in Eastbourne outright.

Rents are so high in the seaside resort (at around £900 ($1750) a month for similar property) that they fear they will struggle to find anything suitable in their area. Even if they do, many landlords are unwilling to accept pets.

Len looked into so-called equity release — a type of lifetime mortgage where the loan only has to be repaid when you die or go into care — but has been told he doesn't have enough equity in the house.

He would need a minimum of 40 per cent equity but only has 31 per cent.

Having exhausted all the alternatives, they are preparing to battle Santander in court.

Len, a former accountant, says: "It seems like a heartless decision by Santander as we have no trouble paying our mortgage.

"The idea of uprooting at our age is horrible. I don't know where we will go. We have lived in this area for the past 17 years and have friends and family here. It will be a hell of disruption at our time of life."

Stephen Lloyd MP said: "Evicting an elderly couple who have always paid their mortgage on time appears to be an unnecessary decision by Santander.

"I am asking the chief executive to increase the age limit like other banks have done so the Fitzgeralds can keep living in their home."

How to deal with an interest-only mortgage problem

The problem of interest-only mortgages has been referred to as a timebomb, writes Simon Lambert.

This is because there are three waves of borrowers identified as facing a crunch at the end of their mortgage terms - and because at a personal level those with interest-only mortgages face a clock ticking against them.

A UK financial watchdog report found the first wave of borrowers are facing problems now, as endowment savings fail to meet their predicted target.

A further wave hits in the late 2020s, when mortgages sold in the early 2000s with no repayment method mature, and a final chunk of borrowers face issues in the early 2030s, due to high loan-to-value mortgages sold at the peak of the credit boom.

For those whose mortgage terms end now the problem is most acute, as they must find a large sum to clear the loan, or make big monthly payments to start paying it down over a short period.

The good news for those with longer to go until their term is up is that time is on their side and a lesser hike in payments is needed to shift to a repayment deal.

Those facing interest-only problems are advised not to bury their heads in the sand. They should speak to their lender and ask for help.

They should see if they can move to a cheaper rate and start paying down the mortgage and also check whether they can move to a better deal with another lender. Moving off a lender's standard variable rate can cut costs substantially.

A good mortgage broker helps here, as they will not only be able to help you find the best rate but also will know of the lenders most likely to help you.