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It has revealed that more than 5,000 Help to Buy homeowners made a loss on their properties in the scheme’s first six years, despite house prices in their local areas rising significantly. The Help to Buy scheme usually allows buyers to borrow up to 20% of a new-build property’s value from the government, put in a 5% deposit and take out a mortgage on the rest. The government loan is repaid as a percentage of the property’s value, rather than a set cash sum. Out of around 35,000 people who had repaid their Help to Buy equity loans in England by the end of June last year, one in seven (14%) paid back less than they’d borrowed in the first place. But despite how it might sound, repaying less isn’t a good thing. The idea of Help to Buy is that homeowners build equity through paying down the mortgage and the property value rising, enabling them to pay back the loan within the first five years (after which interest kicks in) and refinance or move to their next home using just their equity and a mortgage. If the home loses value, the owner will pay back less to the government but also hold less equity themselves, while still owing the same amount on the mortgage. In an area where the surrounding house prices have risen – which is the case in every area where Help to Buy homes have fallen in value – this makes it extremely difficult to afford a new home. There have long been suspicions of a ‘Help to Buy premium’ charged by developers to unwitting buyers. Here, Which? uses never-seen-before Help to Buy loan redemption data to explore whether there’s any truth to the rumours.