State help for people struggling to pay the mortgage after losing their job will be extended from today in a bid to cushion the blow of the recession. The waiting period to qualify for the means-tested benefit has been reduced by a third to 13 weeks from 39 in a move brought forward from April.

More people will now be eligible for Support for Mortgage Interest, or SMI, after mortgages of up to £200,000 were included - double the previous limit and £30,000 higher than the previously planned increase.

James Purnell, work and pensions secretary, said: “We have changed the rules to make sure even more people can get help with their mortgage payments if they lose their job.”

Financial Times