Government lifts guarantee at Northern Rock

Northern Rock umbrella

The government has lifted its 100% guarantee on all variable rate accounts at Northern Rock as the beleaguered bank slowly returns to health.

Millions of savers will now have the same protection as depositors with other banks. This covers them for up to £50,000 for individual accounts or £100,000 for a joint account.

However, those with fixed-rate accounts will continue to enjoy the unlimited guarantee until the end of the agreed term.

Northern Rock introduced the guarantee two years after the government was forced to step in and reassure panic stricken savers as they queued to withdraw their cash.

However, this attracted many wealthy individuals and led to complaints from rival banks that Rock had an unfair advantage.

Since the end of the guarantee was announced three months ago, the nationalised bank has worked hard to retain customers with a host of top-paying savings products and low interest rates on its mortgages.

In March the bank said it saw losses shrink to £257.4 million last year, as income levels picked up and bad loans lessened in the second half of the year.

This compares to a £1.36 billion pre-tax loss in 2008, when the beleaguered lender was feeling the full force of the financial crisis.

Rock, which was taken into the government's arms in 2007, said mortgage lending had grown during the year, up from £2.9 billion to £4.2 billion, although savings levels remained flat at £19.6 billion.

Northern Rock was formally split into a 'good bank' and a 'bad bank' on 1 January following its restructuring last year.

The new savings and mortgage bank called Northern Rock will be sold off later this year to recoup some of the £26 billion of government money ploughed into the bank. It holds savings balances of around £19 billion and has around £10 billion of low-risk residential mortgages.

Virgin, which recently received a banking license, and National Australia Bank are among the frontrunners to snap up the 'good' part of the bank.

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