Page last updated at 11:03 GMT, Thursday, 23 October 2008 12:03 UK

Call for Scots repossession move

The prime minister hopes to reduce the number of repossessions

Opposition parties are calling for Scottish homeowners to receive the same protection from repossession as householders in England and Wales.

The prime minister has introduced rules to ensure courts south of the border only take homes as a last resort.

The proposals do not apply in Scotland because of its separate legal system.

However, Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the Mortgage Rights (Scotland) Act 2001 already made sure repossessions were a last resort.

Speaking on BBC radio's Good Morning Scotland programme, she said:"The Mortgage Rights Bill already allows owners to ask for time to pay or to look at alternatives.

"A sheriff will look at all the circumstances, including the conduct of the lender."

It is not the case that homeowners in Scotland will somehow have less protection than south of the border and I don't think it's right for anybody to make that suggestion
Nicola Sturgeon
Deputy First Minister

In England and Wales the tougher rules are to be brought in through a "pre-trial protocol".

This will state what the courts should expect of lenders bringing repossession cases.

The aim is to ensure lenders have demonstrated to the courts that they had exhausted every avenue before resorting to repossession.

The process would not work north of the border where pre-trial protocols do not exist.

Scottish Labour and the Scottish Liberal Democrats called for Scottish law to be changed to allow the prime minister's plan to go ahead north of the border.

However, Ms Sturgeon said: "It is not the case that homeowners in Scotland will somehow have less protection than south of the border and I don't think it's right for anybody to make that suggestion."

'Decisive action'

Lawyer Mike Dailly, of Govan Law Centre in Glasgow, said Ms Sturgeon was "dangerously wrong" and there was no similar duty imposed on courts to seek alternatives to repossession.

"Court procedures in Scotland rely on lawyers asking the court to look for alternatives," he said.

He added that in England people were also entitled to free legal representation.

Labour's Cathy Jamieson accused Ms Sturgeon of "astonishing complacency".

"Gordon Brown has acted decisively to ensure additional protection for homeowners, but the Scottish Government's response is to sit on their hands and do nothing," she said.

She also said banks should play a greater role in preventing repossessions by setting up home ownership schemes.

The UK Government is proposing that firms involved in sale-and-rent back schemes should be regulated by the Financial Services Authority.

The Lib Dem's Ross Finnie said: "I think there is a question about making an absolute requirement on banks that they've taken every possible step to try and do some alternative structuring to the loan before they have a recourse to repossession."

Publicity campaign

The Scottish Conservatives said there should be more dialogue between borrowers and lenders.

Shadow Scottish Secretary David Mundell said: "Both the government and the banks do have a role in helping people get through this situation."

The Scottish Government said it had programmes in place to help people experiencing mortgage difficulties.

This included a 25m home owner support fund which aims to allow home owners in serious financial difficulties to retain ownership of their house.

It is also planning to launch a publicity campaign urging people to seek help through Citizen's Advice Bureaux and Debtline.

Scottish Government officials are to meet the Council of Mortgage Lenders to discuss the prime minister's new guidance.

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