George Gee is commercial director at Foundation Home Loans

The recent launch of a government-led retraining quiz and campaign aimed at helping people to assess their suitability for certain careers created something of a social media buzz.

Looking at a selection of the results posted, I’m not sure how seriously some of these people took this assessment but, the current employment outlook is certainly no joke for a growing proportion of the UK population.

Reallymoving: House prices set to rise by 8.8%

New data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and the Cebr-Opinium Business Distress Tracker have caused the Centre for Economics and Business Research (Cebr) to recently revise its unemployment forecast over the winter period. According to the ONS, in the period between the 7th and 20th of September 11% of businesses’ workforce were on partial or full furlough leave.

Worryingly, this share has hardly budged from the previous month (12%), despite the increased employer contribution to wages from September onwards. This suggests that many businesses are struggling to bring these remaining people back to work.

As we approach the end of the furlough financial lifeline, further layers of complexity will be added to an income picture which has already shifted over the past few years, and one which has changed beyond all comprehension in more recent times. For the lending community, the past six months have proved to be a steep learning curve but one, which it has navigated with great strength and resilience.

In terms of this learning process, we’re now seeing borrowers faced with scenarios, which they, intermediaries and lenders have never previously experienced. As a specialist lender, we’re fully accustomed to adapting quickly to fluctuating market conditions and ever-changing social demographics.

Prior to the pandemic, we had already seen significant growth in self-employment, a rise in people generating income from multiple – and unusual – sources which we quite simply consider as adding an extra-ordinary angle to an everyday case, and an increase in mortgage borrowers with recent or historic credit blips.

However, the continued fall-out from Covid-19 is seeing the market face even more complex scenarios such as mortgage payment holidays, furlough and many other unforeseen influencing factors, which have been thrown into the melting pot. All of which have to be met within responsible risk and lending boundaries.

This is leading to the gulf between mainstream and specialist lending both widening and narrowing. Many borrowers who would have been deemed ‘mainstream’ only six to twelve months ago may now well struggle to secure a mortgage with a high street lender. This number is escalating so quickly that the lines between what may have been previously classed as mainstream borrowers and specialist borrowers are becoming more blurred by the day.

Many mainstream offerings have become even less accommodating in terms of having the ability or appetite to extend criteria requirements or product ranges to meet the needs of this growing band of borrowers. Meaning there’s an increasing reliance on the innovative approach and flexible underwriting capabilities of specialist lenders to meet heightening demand across a wider section of the residential market. And this is only likely to continue in Q4 2020 and beyond.