Page last updated at 17:35 GMT, Thursday, 18 December 2008

Mortgage arrears 'to hit 500,000'

Abandoned house
Arrears and repossessions are expected to rise sharply in 2009

Mortgage lenders predict the recession will lead to a huge rise in arrears among their borrowers in 2009.

The Council of Mortgage Lenders (CML) said the number of households more than three months behind with their repayments would reach 500,000.

That will be more than double this year's expected figure of 210,000.

The CML said 2009 would be "very tough" because the recession would drive up unemployment and lead to 75,000 repossessions among borrowers.

"The economic recession means unemployment is rising sharply, and this will inevitably impact on the number of households facing mortgage arrears," it said.

Forecast 'futile'

Michael Coogan, head of the Council of Mortgage Lenders, blames unemployment and debt

The international credit crunch of the past 18 months, which has seen some of the UK's biggest lenders collapse or be taken over, has led to an unprecedented drought of funds for home buyers.

The CML's latest figures show that gross mortgage lending in November fell by another 22% from October, to just under 15bn - which was 51% lower than in the same month last year.

With house prices still falling rapidly the CML has declined to make a formal house price forecast for 2009, describing the idea recently as "futile".

But it agreed that prices would still fall, and predicted that sales next year would continue falling to just 700,000; from 900,000 this year and 1.6 million in 2007.

The housing market would remain "extremely subdued" said the CML's director general Michael Coogan, who predicted that new mortgage lending would be so low that it would be outstripped by people paying off their mortgages.

"Recent glimmers of light in terms of government intervention to improve conditions to support new lending are helpful, but more will be needed," he added.

Seismic shifts

The CML pointed out that existing borrowers on variable rates would see their repayments cut because of the recent reductions in interest rates.

The housing market will remain extremely subdued and net mortgage lending is likely to turn negative
Michael Coogan, CML

But it said the housing market was bearing the brunt of the credit crunch and despite what it called "seismic shifts" in government economic policy to deal with the situation, the market would not start to recover until the second half of 2009 at the earliest.

One reason for the expected sharp rise in arrears is that lenders will hold off from repossessing some borrowers who are struggling, under pressure from the government and with help from the various recently launched mortgage assistance schemes.

And the CML claimed that not all the eventual repossessions would involve homeowners being evicted from their properties.

"A significant number of these are likely to be cases where the property is abandoned or where property fraud has been perpetrated, and a sizeable share are expected to be buy-to-let mortgages," it said.

The association of mortgage intermediaries (AMI), a trade body for mortgage brokers, said it was surprised at the CML's gloomy predictions.

"If the outcomes are as dire as the CML's predictions (145M gross lending) then the industry and consumers in particular are in for a tough year," said Robert Sinclair, AMI director.

"It is now essential that the Government intervenes swiftly to implement Sir James Crosby's recommendations for the mortgage finance markets," he added.

Government response

The government insisted that it was doing everything it could to help homeowners in trouble.

"We are determined to do everything possible to provide real help to homeowners who may face difficulties during the downturn, and that means doing all we can to ensure repossession is always a last resort," said Housing Minister Margaret Beckett.

But shadow housing minister Grant Shapps said: "Labour failed to prepare this country for the downturn and hard-pressed families are now being forced to pay the price."

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