Page last updated at 11:10 GMT, Monday, 9 February 2009

Repossession plans 'not enough'

A derelict house
The number of people forced out of their homes is set to rise

Initiatives aimed at helping people avoid losing their homes will only help a "very small number" of households, a think-tank has claimed.

The right-leaning Centre for Policy Studies said that more than 145,000 households faced being made homeless during the recession.

Another 245,000 would get repossession orders against them, it predicted.

The think-tank said courts should use more discretion in deciding who should stay in their homes.

It based its repossession estimates on figures already released by the Council for Mortgage Lenders and the Financial Services Authority.

'Limited impact'

The government has announced a string of measures to help vulnerable people avoid repossession.

These have included better state support for mortgage interest payments and creating the Homeowner Mortgage Support Scheme, allowing some to defer mortgage interest payments for up to two years.

The measures introduced will simply not help the vast majority of the families facing repossessions
Grant Shapps
Shadow housing minister

But the organisation argued that these would have limited impact.

It argued that during the 1990s recession, courts did most to help households in need - where judicial discretion had allowed a court to postpone, adjourn, stay or suspend a claim for repossession.

"Past experience suggests that the exercise of judicial discretion could prevent a large number of repossessions through the use of suspended repossession orders during the period of the current housing crisis," the report said.

It said allowing courts more discretion would not help all households that were better placed to repay their mortgage and arrears - even though this may have been over a longer period of time than previously agreed with the lender.

"These proposals will only help those households which are considered by the courts to be able to repay their arrears and their mortgages. The risk of moral hazard will therefore be minimal," the report said.

'Last-resort'

The government defended its stance, with a spokesman saying it was "already making sure courts are playing an active role in helping people keep their home".

It said it had expanded free legal representation in county courts - which could help households avoid repossession in 85% of cases when they attend court.

Lenders were also being forced to make sure that repossession was a last-resort, he said, as well as its other initiatives.

However shadow housing minister, Grant Shapps, said the government's efforts had "fallen flat".

"The measures introduced will simply not help the vast majority of the families facing repossessions," he added.

Liberal Democrat housing spokeswoman Sarah Teather said repossessions would "reach epidemic proportions" unless the government acted.

She called for mortgage law to be reformed "to ensure courts can ensure repossession is only ever a last resort."



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