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Last Updated: Friday, 8 February 2008, 15:08 GMT
Home repossessions rise to 27,000
Graphic of repossession figures
The number of people whose homes were repossessed last year has risen by 21%.

The Council of Mortgage Lenders said 27,100 homes, the highest figure since 1999, were taken over by lenders after people fell behind with repayments.

The figure for the UK is more than the 22,400 in 2006, but not as extreme as the CML had forecast. It is still a sharp rise on the 8,500 of 2003.

And the CML warned that the number of repossessions was likely to rise again in 2008 as the credit crunch tightened.

Meanwhile, the numbers of mortgages behind on payments rose by 8.6% compared to 2006, the organisation, which represents mortgage lenders, said.

'Wider issues'

Another bill would come up which you would be paying on a credit card and you would have to pay the interest on the cards... all that adds up
Kevin Allen, who faced repossession

Added cost pressures on homeowners are expected this year, owing to higher energy and food bills, while more than a million people are coming off fixed-rate mortgages.

Michael Coogan, CML director general, said: "The number of repossessions is likely to be higher in 2008 as a result of wider issues in the economy and the mortgage funding markets."

He said that "no one is necessarily to blame for this" but called for "a fair and reasonable balance of responsibility".

Mr Coogan said consumers, their advisers and lenders, and the system of state support, all had a role to play to ensure "repossessions are minimised".

Tighter credit market

The rise in repossessions was likely to be down primarily to the credit crunch, with lenders taking fewer risks with borrowers who were already over-extended.

Charities have previously warned about some homeowners using credit cards to pay their mortgages, but with credit increasingly difficult to come by, many have been struggling to meet repayments.

Most mortgage possession claims do not end with the owner losing their home, because the lender often comes to an arrangement with the borrower to pay off the arrears.

Chimney pot
Repossession figures are still far below levels in the early 1990s

But Sue Edwards, head of consumer policy at Citizens Advice, said:

"Our evidence shows that lenders are not always doing everything they can to help borrowers in trouble, all too often piling on extra charges and being too quick to take court action rather than being prepared to negotiate affordable repayment arrangements.

"We want to see all lenders being reasonable when dealing with customers who do get into trouble, and taking court action for possession only as a last resort."

And Shadow Housing Minister Grant Shapps said: "These figures sadly make a mockery of Labour's hollow claims to have helped more people onto the property ladder."

Interest rates

Despite the latest rise in repossessions, figures are still much lower than the numbers in the early 1990s. when they reached 75,500 repossessions a year.

The CML figures have been released the day after many of the largest - but not all - mortgage lenders announced they would pass on the 0.25% cut in interest rates in full to customers.

These lenders said the cut on the standard variable rate would come in early March.

Simon Rubinsohn, chief economist of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, predicted further interest rates in the coming months, offering more relief to homeowners.

Godfrey Blight, chairman of the Intermediary Mortgages Lenders Association, said arrears and repossessions would rise in 2008, but not "catastrophically so".

Political row

The figures have prompted political debate.

Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg said: "We must take steps to ensure that repossession is only ever a last resort - by making financial advice compulsory at the point repossession claims are issued."

For the Conservatives, shadow housing minister Grant Shapps said: "These figures sadly make a mockery of Labour's hollow claims to have helped more people on to the property ladder.

"The Government needs to urgently address the issue of affordable housing."

A Treasury spokesman said: "The Government's Housing Finance Review, to be published in the Budget, will explore options to increase the uptake of affordable long-term fixed-rate mortgages."

On Monday, the Insolvency Service said the number of people declared insolvent in 2007 was 106,645, just slightly below the record high in 2006, while bankruptcies were up 2.4%.

Experts said it would be increasingly difficult for people to borrow their way out of trouble.

Those who fear getting into trouble with mortgage repayments have been urged to speak to their lender.

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