The Lifetime ISA is now on its own as the ISA option for first time buyers.
At the start of December, the Help-to-Buy ISA was withdrawn for new investments. Its disappearance means that the Lifetime ISA (LISA) is now the only ISA plan that offers incentives for those savings towards their first home. However, anyone who started a Help-to-Buy ISA before 1 December can continue to contribute up to £200 a month and has until 1 December 2030 to claim their Help-to-Buy bonus.
The LISA was launched in April 2017 and is rather different from the traditional ISA:
- It can only be taken out by somebody aged between 18 and 39, with contributions payable up to age 50.
- The maximum investment is £4,000 per tax year (which counts towards the £20,000 overall ISA limit).
- There is a 25% government bonus payable on any contribution, meaning a maximum of £1,000 is added if the £4,000 annual limit is met.
- Withdrawals can be made penalty-free at any time after 12 months if the proceeds are used to buy the investor’s first home and that home costs no more than £450,000.
- Withdrawal are also penalty free from age 60 onwards.
- Any other withdrawals (other than on terminal illness) are subject to a penalty of 25% of the amount withdrawn.
The withdrawal penalty is a controversial feature because it claws back more than just the government bonus. A recent Freedom of Information request revealed that HMRC had collected over £9m in penalties from LISA encashments between April 2018 and November 2019.
Not so lovely LISA…
Steve saved £80 a month in a cash LISA for 18 months from April 2018, gaining a £20 government bonus on each contribution. In November 2019 he was forced to cash in his LISA after being made redundant. Low interest rates meant that the face value of his LISA savings was £1,832. However, there was a 25% (£458) penalty on encashment, which meant he received £1,374, which is £66 less than he had saved.
With the Help to Buy ISA (which had no penalties) gone, there is a risk that more young savers will end up paying LISA penalties. It is a reminder that taking advice is a wise precaution, even for what look like simple savings plans.