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Last Updated: Sunday, 2 September 2007, 04:20 GMT 05:20 UK
A nation (re)possessed?
By Lissa Cook
BBC Radio Five Live Report

Derelict house
Repossessions are up by 30% in the last year

Are increases in your mortgage repayments set to break the bank? Are the credit card bills piling up on the doormat?

If the Bank of England pushes up interest rates for a sixth time on Thursday it could be the final straw for the people clinging on to the bottom rung of the property ladder.

Repossessions have risen by 30% over the past year and are at their highest level for seven years.

And it's not hard to see why. We've had five interest rate rises in the past year. Debt is at record levels and inflation is squeezing our disposable income.

But there are schemes which claim to offer a solution: one which allows you to pay off your debts - and stay in your own home.

Had there been another way I out I wouldn't have done it, but there was just no other way out if I wanted to keep the house
Victoria Taylor

Only instead of owning your house, you sell it - using the proceeds to clear your mortgage and other debts - and become a tenant, paying rent.

Low offers

It looks attractive. But Peter Tutton, of Citizens Advice Bureau, says it's difficult to know if you're getting a good deal - not least because of the inevitable emotional vulnerability of those faced with losing their home.

"The sale could be at a very, very large discount to its market value - in some cases 65% of the price you would get on the open market," he says.

Insecurity

His colleague Hayley Rowley, a CAB specialist support officer in Wolverhampton, is seeing some horrific cases.

"We saw an elderly gent living on his own whose home was valued at about 165,000," she recalls. "He had no mortgage but had fallen behind on credit cards.

"He agreed to sell his house for 40,000, so that's 120,000 below market value, and remains there - at the mercy, really - of the new owner on a six-month assured short-term tenancy, that can be ended at any point with two months' notice."

And for those taking this kind of deal, there is no guarantee that the new arrangement is permanent.

Mr Tutton cites cases where the landlord who buys the house defaults on the new mortgage - and the bank takes back the house anyway, leaving the resident out in the cold.

Housing charity Shelter says it, too, is starting to see cases of people even being made homeless after being evicted.

Urgent

But there is nothing illegal about this.

Unlike equity release plans - which were brought under legislation recently - sale and rent-back schemes are unregulated.

Peter Tutton says interest rate rises mean this is an urgent issue.

"The government really needs to act now, or we're going to see some dreadful scandals three or four years down the line as people start tumbling out who've been horribly mis-sold an inappropriate product," he says."

Victoria Taylor's case seems to fit the bill. She had lived in her home for 26 years but when her partner left her she could no longer meet the mortgage repayments of 325 a month.

Still, the deals she was offered seemed far from good value.

"A lot of them were offering only 50,000, on a house that was valued at 100,000," she says. "And their rents were extortionate - they were for 475-500 a month.

"Had there been another way I out I wouldn't have done it, but there was just no other way out if I wanted to keep the house."

BBC Radio Five Live Report: A Nation (Re)Possessed can be heard at 1100 BST on Sunday 2 September or afterwards at the 5live Report website. The programme is made by All Out Productions.


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