More than £3bn of cash was taken out of British properties in a year for the first time, new figures show.

The final three months of 2017 broke a series of records relating to the “equity release” market, where homeowners tap into property wealth.

Data from the Equity Release Council, the industry’s trade body, shows around 37,000 people used equity release plans – also known as lifetime mortgages – for the first time.

 

Once seen as a last resort, booming house prices and the threat of inheritance tax have increased the appeal of schemes to a wealthier group of home owners.

Equity release plans allow property owners to withdraw cash in one off or irregular lump sums. Interest typically rolls up and the loan is paid off on the sale of a property, when you move into long-term care or on death.

Growing numbers of over-55s, the age at which most schemes operate, are unlocking wealth in this way in line with the rise house prices in recent years. Like conventional mortgages, the interest rates applied to equity release loans has fallen since the financial crisis. This has also fuelled demand.

Most people opt for a “drawdown” plan while one in four take a single lump sum. Across all customers, the average sum released is around £70,000.

Common uses include paying off interest-only mortgages, clearing other high-interest debt such as credit cards or funding home renovations.

David Burrowes, chairman of the Equity Release Council, said customers had “more choice than ever” when tapping into housing wealth.

He said: “The property is, for many people, their largest asset and has the potential to play an ever-greater role in the future to meet the challenge of ensuring effective later life funding.”