Page last updated at 10:42 GMT, Friday, 15 May 2009 11:42 UK

UK repossessions up 50% in a year

Margaret Beckett: 'Losing your home is so traumatic'

The number of homes repossessed in the UK rose to 12,800 in the first three months of the year, the Council of Mortgage Lenders (CML) has said.

This was up 23% from the 10,400 in the previous three months and 50% up on the 8,500 in the same period last year.

The CML has predicted that 75,000 homes will be repossessed in 2009, almost double the 40,000 of last year.

But the group has now described this prediction as "pessimistic" and could change its view in the summer.

But figures from the Ministry of Justice show a huge drop in the number of lenders getting court permission for the early stages of repossession.

Debt dangers

The number of home loans with arrears of more than 2.5% of the mortgage balance rose by 12% from 182,600 in the fourth quarter of 2008 to 205,300 in the first three months of this year, the CML said.

This was 62% up on the 127,000 in the first quarter of 2008.

Other key issues revealed:

  • There was a jump in the number of buy-to-let investors having properties repossessed in the first quarter of the year
  • Fewer people faced the early stages of repossession as lenders held back from going to court
  • New schemes were aimed at offering alternatives to repossession

The figures were described as "pretty ugly" by Chris Tapp, director of debt charity Credit Action.

Graph showing repossessions over last 15 months

Lenders have come under increasing pressure to help out borrowers in trouble.

There is help available for people in danger of losing their homes. Tracey Myers nearly lost her home a few years ago.

"It was awful. I wouldn't want anyone to go through it. There is no way out - no matter how much you show people you are trying to sort things out, they just want their piece back," she told the BBC's Propertywatch programme.

"I resigned myself to the fact it was going to be repossessed. I waited for the knock on the door. I had everything packed - I lived in a shell so at least if they came to evict me, I could get everything out. It was just a waiting game."

But, helped by the Scottish Mortgage Rescue Scheme - she managed to keep her home. A similar scheme in England offers people the chance to sell some or all of their home and rent it back from a social landlord.

A separate UK-wide scheme allows people who have temporarily lost their income to defer a proportion of their mortgage interest payments for up to two years.

Lender help

In November, the large lenders agreed to a minimum three-month delay before starting repossession proceedings. Many said this was standard industry practice.

Mortgage rescue: allowing the owner to become a tenant in their own home
Homeowners Mortgage Support Scheme: allows newly jobless to defer up to 70% of mortgage interest payments
Court protocol: demands a three-month delay and discussion of alternatives before repossession action
Help for tenants: minimum notice of two months for tenants to leave if their landlord's property is repossessed

In October, lenders were told that in order to gain court permission for a repossession, they would have to show they had tried to discuss and agree alternative arrangements with borrowers. These alternatives could include a full or partial repayment holiday, changing the type of mortgage or extending the repayment term.

Figures from the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) - also released on Friday - show that the pressure on lenders to ease back on repossessions could have paid off.

The ministry's figures - which only cover England and Wales - show that the situation earlier in the repossession process, when lenders first go to court for permission to take back a mortgaged property.

There were 17,054 repossession orders granted in the courts in the first three months of the year. That was 39% lower than in the same period a year earlier and 43% lower than in the last three months of 2008.

However, it is not clear whether lenders have cancelled plans to make repossessions, or simply delayed them.

Lenders are keen to assist anyone who got into difficulties with repaying their mortgage, Michael Coogan, the CML's director general said.

"Lenders are acutely conscious that behind the statistics are real people, many of whom are affected by the economic downturn and its impacts on unemployment, changes in circumstances and inability to refinance," he said.

Rental sector

Separate figures released by the CML showed a leap in the number of homes repossessed that were owned by buy-to-let investors.

Tenant Frank Bertwhistle speaks of his fears over repossession

There were 1,700 buy-to-let repossessions in the first quarter of the year, up from 1,300 during the previous three months.

A receiver of rent was appointed to a further 2,400 buy-to-let properties during the period - up from 1,800 in the the previous quarter. This enabled tenants to stay in their home but with their rent paid to the lender rather than the landlord.

"The figures also prove that government announcements this week to help tenants of repossessed landlords must be implemented as fast as possible," said Sam Younger, chief executive of housing charity Shelter.

These proposals included a minimum notice of two months for tenants to leave if their landlord's property is repossessed. There have been some cases of people being given less than two weeks to find somewhere new to live.

With interest rates falling, the CML said that the proportion of buy-to let investors in arrears on their mortgages had fallen slightly.

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