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Mortgage arrears charges unfair?

By Bob Howard
BBC Radio 4's Money Box

Maxy Mahar
Maxy Mahar incurred charges when she fell behind with her payments

Debt advisers have criticised the administration charges lenders make when home owners fall behind with their mortgage payments.

Many customers are charged between 20 and 50 per month if they fall into arrears.

Lenders say charges reflect extra costs they incur and are stopped when customers agree a repayment strategy.

But critics say the charges are inflated and are pushing people closer to repossession.

Pushing towards repossession

Maxy Mahar from Sussex told BBC Radio 4's Money Box programme she was charged 30 a month in administration fees when she fell behind with her payments.

"With every 30 which gets added on, the cost becomes greater and it becomes more difficult to catch up."

The charges should be waived in the current crisis
Nick Pearson, Paymex
Most lenders include a right to levy administration charges in their terms and conditions.

Nationwide charges 20 a month, Halifax and Abbey charge 35 and GMAC charges 50 a month.

Waived charges

Nick Pearson works for the debt advice firm Paymex which has been advising Maxy.

It has been able to negotiate a repayment deal which means the charges are no longer being incurred.

It's particularly unfair when people have reached an agreement with their lender
Peter Tutton, Citizens Advice
He believes some charges are unreasonable and by levying them, lenders are simply pushing more homeowners towards repossession:

"We think the charges should be waived in the current crisis because they will undermine efforts to keep as many people in their homes as possible."

Most lenders say if customers contact them, a repayment schedule can be arranged and the charges are stopped.

Nevertheless Peter Tutton, a policy adviser at Citizens Advice, says he has heard of cases where the charges continue, whether agreement has been reached or not.

"We think it's very unfair that people in financial difficulty are being charged just for being in arrears.

"It's particularly unfair when people have reached an agreement with their lender."

FSA review

It is not just debt advisers who are concerned.

A senior county court judge who regularly hears repossession cases says his colleagues are aware of this issue and he has raised it with lenders' representatives.

The lenders insist they are trying to help people who are struggling to pay.

Halifax - the UK's biggest mortgage lender - says if people are in arrears it can offer a temporary suspension of mortgage payments, or a transfer over to interest only.

Halifax says it is about to change its arrears charges and Bradford and Bingley is also considering its policy.

The Financial Services Authority is reviewing all lenders arrears charges and expects to publish its findings in May.

BBC Radio 4's Money Box was broadcast on Saturday, 21 February 2009 at 1204 GMT.

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