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What is equity release?

Simon Stanney

Last updated 14th December 2023 by Scott Robertson

10 min read

Equity release is a way to access some of the money tied up in the value of your home if you are over the age of 55. You can release the money as a lump sum or in instalments, and can continue living in your house for as long as you’re able.

There are different equity release plans that allow you to release this cash, either by taking out a loan secured against your home, or by selling part or all of it. The two main types are lifetime mortgages (the most popular option) and home reversion schemes.

People choose equity release for many reasons, whether it's to pay off debts, live more comfortably in retirement, fund home improvements or to help a family member with a cash gift gift. Once you’ve paid off any remaining mortgage, the money is yours to spend as you wish.

What is equity in a house?

The equity in your home is the market value of your property minus any outstanding mortgage or other debt secured against it.

With the most common type of mortgages, your equity increases as you make mortgage payments and as your property increases in overall value.

Over the years, property prices in the UK have risen( opens in a new tab). So, if you bought your home some time ago, you could now find yourself with a good amount of equity.

Here are a few examples:

  • If your home is worth £350,000 and your mortgage is paid off, you would have £350,000 equity
  • If your home is worth £250,000 and you have an outstanding mortgage of £50,000, you would have £200,000 equity
  • If your home is worth £150,000 and you have an outstanding mortgage of £20,000 and an additional secured loan from your mortgage lender of £5,000, you would have £125,000 equity

The exact amount of equity you can release will depend on your age and personal circumstances.

Equity release calculator icon.

Use our 60 second equity release calculator

Use our 60 second equity release calculator

Use our equity release calculator

Use our 60 second
equity release calculator

Release tax-free cash from your home

Understanding equity release

Equity release plans are available to over 55s who own a qualifying property in the UK.

Depending on the plan, you can release the money as a lump sum or in smaller instalments, and it’s up to you how you spend it.

The money you release will need to pay off any outstanding mortgage first. The rest is yours to spend as you wish, for example on home improvements or to help your family.

It’s a tax-free sum you can use however you like.

Once you’ve accessed your money, you won’t have to make any monthly repayments. If you’d like to make ad hoc or regular repayments, some plans offer this option. Choosing to make repayments – however small – will help reduce the amount of interest you pay over the lifetime of your loan.

With the most popular form of equity release, the outstanding loan (plus interest if unpaid) will be paid back when you sell your house – which will usually be when you (or, for joint policies, your partner) pass away or move into long term care.

Visit our 'How does equity release work?' guide to learn more about the process and how to apply.

Types of equity release schemes

There are two main ways to release the equity tied up in your home without having to move:

  • Lifetime mortgage – where you borrow money against the value of your home
  • Home reversion scheme – where you sell all or part of your property in exchange for money

For an introduction to lifetime mortgages and home reversion schemes, visit our guide to different types of equity release.

An expert adviser will be able to help you determine if equity release is right for you and, if so, decide which type of equity release scheme suits you best and how much you could release.

How old do you have to be for equity release?

To take out equity release you need to be 55 years old or older. If you're taking out a joint equity release plan, you both need to be at least 55.

To take out a home reversion plan you must be 65 years of age or more.

There are other criteria to think about before you decide if equity release is right for you.

Is equity release right for me?

If you have money tied up in your home, and you’re looking for a way to fund a more comfortable retirement, equity release could be a way to boost your finances.

It could help top up your pension or other income when you stop working – and you can use the money to maintain or enhance your lifestyle in later life.

You’ll need to meet certain conditions in order to qualify for equity release plans. If you meet the criteria below, then you could be eligible:

  • You're 55 or over
  • You're the owner of a qualifying property in the UK
  • Your property is worth £70,000 or more

Use our equity release eligibility checker to find out if you can apply.

If you have enough spare cash or other investments that will allow you to maintain your lifestyle or other spending goals in retirement, then equity release is less likely to best meet your needs. Make sure to consider alternative options that might be more suitable.

How does equity release affect benefits?

It’s important to remember that equity release can affect benefits you receive and may impact benefits that you might become eligible for in the future.

If you receive or may need to apply for means-tested benefits, they may be reduced, or you will no longer be eligible for them. These include:

A specialist equity release adviser will be able to advise what will happen to your benefits if you take out a plan.

They’ll talk you through the details and help you decide whether equity release is right for you.

Read our guide on how equity release affects benefits to find out more.

Equity release definitions and important terms

When researching equity release, some of the terms and phrases can be confusing.

To make things clearer, we’ve created this glossary that explains the terms you might come across.


Stands for Annual Percentage Rate also referred to as the Effective APR. The annual interest rate payable on a loan.

Arrangement fee

The money you pay to your provider to cover the various administration costs involved in releasing the equity from your home.


The person or people you nominate to receive the proceeds of your estate when you die.

Compound interest

Some equity release plans, such as lifetime mortgages, are subject to compound interest. This is where you pay interest on the original loan amount plus the interest that’s already been added to the loan. Read our ‘What is compound interest?’ article. See also Lifetime mortgage.


Selling your home and buying another property (typically smaller) of lesser value to live in. Find out more about downsizing and equity release.

Drawdown lifetime mortgage

An equity release mortgage with the facility to draw money out as and when you need it, up to an agreed limit. Interest is only charged on the loan when money is released to you. Read our 'What is a drawdown lifetime mortgage?' article.

Early repayment charge

A fee required by a provider if you pay off a lifetime mortgage early.


The market value of your house, minus any outstanding mortgage debt and other loans secured on it. If you own your home outright, then 100% of the equity is yours.

Equity release

A financial arrangement that allows you to benefit from the value of your home whilst continuing to live in it, either by borrowing against it or selling all or part of it, for a cash lump sum or a regular income. See also Home reversion plan and Lifetime mortgage.

Equity Release Council (ERC)

The industry body that represents providers, qualified advisers, lawyers, intermediaries and surveyors who work in the sector. Members( opens in a new tab) must adhere to the Council's Statement of Principles which puts in place safeguards and guarantees for you.


Everything you own (e.g. property, investments and possessions) when you die less any money you owe.

Financial Conduct Authority (FCA)

The independent body responsible for regulating the conduct of financial services firms and markets in the UK, to ensure consumers get a fair deal. The Financial Conduct Authority( opens in a new tab) is the conduct regulator for 56,000 financial services firms and financial markets in the UK and the prudential regulator for over 18,000 of those firms.


Outright ownership of a property including the land it’s built on. See also Leasehold.

Home reversion plan

A scheme that enables you to sell part, or all of your home to a provider at a reduced price in exchange for a tax-free cash lump sum. Ownership of your home passes to the provider, but you can continue to live there for the rest of your life, rent free. Read our 'What is a home reversion plan?' article.

Impaired life

When the provider allows more equity to be released from your home if you have health problems.


Receiving money on a regular basis rather than as a one-off lump sum. See also Lump sum.

Inheritance protection guarantee

A feature that allows you to protect a portion of your home's value so you can guarantee an inheritance for your loved ones.

Joint plan

A scheme that includes another person living with you, such as your spouse. Should one of you die or go into care, the other person can continue to live in your home until they die or move out permanently.


Ownership of the property and its land for the duration of a lease agreement with the freeholder. At the end of the lease, ownership returns to the freeholder. See also Freehold.

Lifetime lease

Legal authority to stay in your home rent-free for the rest of your life or until you permanently move in to long-term care. See also Home reversion plan.

Lifetime mortgage

A lifetime mortgage is a loan secured on your home, which is repaid with interest, when you die or go into long-term care. You maintain ownership of the property and continue to live there. See also Compound interest.

Loan to value (LTV)

This is the size of your mortgage in relation to the value of your property. It is usually shown as the percentage of your home that is mortgaged (e.g. 60%), with the balance being the percentage of the property that you own outright (e.g. 40%).

Lump sum

Taking a one-off cash amount upfront rather than receiving a regular income. See also Income.

Negative equity

When the value of a property is less than the debts owed on it.

No-negative equity guarantee

An assurance that neither you nor your beneficiaries will ever owe more than the value of your home. Find out more about how a ‘no negative equity’ guarantee works. See also Equity Release Council.

Portable / Portability

The right to transfer a scheme to a new home provided the new property is acceptable to your provider. All ERC members must include this feature in the schemes they offer. See also Equity Release Council.

Personalised illustration

A quotation presented in the format required by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) to aid customer understanding. Also referred to as a Key Facts Illustration.

Secured loan

A way of borrowing money using an asset, such as your home, as a guarantee. If you don’t keep up repayments, the lender can repossess this asset and sell it to get their money back.


A qualified legal professional engaged to provide legal advice and support to clients. When arranging the release of equity from your home, a solicitor can be engaged to review contractual arrangements and prepare any legal documentation required.

Solicitor’s fees

The money you pay to your solicitor for providing legal services.


The money you release from your home is free of both Capital Gains Tax and Income Tax.


The formal assessment of a property’s value based on its condition and the current housing market, usually carried out by a surveyor on the provider’s behalf.

We hope this glossary sheds light on some of the jargon you may come across when considering your equity release options.

Getting advice

information icon The information in this article is provided for general guidance only and is not offering financial advice.

Equity release is a financial commitment related to your home, so it’s a big decision. As well as providing a roof over your head, it’s also a valuable asset and may form a significant part of your estate. Always take time to think through the pros and cons.

There’s a lot to consider, so it’s also important to get professional advice. This can be from a specialist financial adviser, a solicitor, or both to help you decide if it’s the right option for you.

For free, no-obligation initial advice, contact the SunLife Equity Release Service.

Next steps

If you want to know more about equity release, here are some articles other customers found helpful:

To learn more about releasing equity with SunLife, visit our equity release page.

The thoughts and opinions expressed in the page are those of the authors, intended to be informative, and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of SunLife. See our Terms of Use for more info.