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BBC Property Article
16 Feb 2009
BBC Property Article

The number of properties repossessed by mortgage lenders in the UK has risen by 48% in the past year.

The Council of Mortgage Lenders (CML) said there were 18,900 repossessions in the six months to June, up from 12,800 in the same period last year.

The sharp rise was due to the economic slowdown making it harder for some homeowners to repay mortgages.

Repossessions have been rising since the second half of 2004 but have now begun to accelerate.

The number of mortgage holders behind with their payments has also gone up.

They rose by 29%, up from 120,800 in the first half of 2007 to 155,600 in the first half of this year.

'Extremely Small'

The CML had previously predicted that repossessions this year would eventually rise to 45,000.

Its director general Michael Coogan said the latest figures were no surprise, and would get worse.

"While both have increased from their low base as expected, the overwhelming majority of the UK's borrowers continue to pay their mortgages in full every month, and will continue to do so," he said.

"The CML is maintaining its forecast of 45,000 total possessions and 170,000 mortgages in arrears of more than three months by the end of the year.

"These numbers remain extremely small when seen in the context of the 11.74 million mortgages in the UK," he added.

Compared to the second half of 2007, the latest figures represent a rise of 41%.

The CML argues that sub-prime borrowers - those with poor or non-existent credit histories - have been the ones most affected by repossessions.

"In general terms, while arrears and possessions rates have risen across the industry, the impact of the credit crunch has hit the adverse credit sector harder than most of the mainstream market, which continues to perform well," it said.

Caroline Flint, the housing minister, argued that people's experiences now were nowhere near as bad as those in the last recession in the early 1990s.

"In the 1990s the problems people faced were high unemployment and high interest rates," she said.

"We are making sure the right advice and support is available at the right time for the minority of borrowers who may need it at the moment because of global economic pressures," she added.

But shadow chief secretary to the Treasury, Philip Hammond, said the rising number of repossessions was the result of the government's "economic incompetence".

"Faced with stagnant earnings, rocketing living costs and soaring mortgage bills, the weight of debt is taking its toll on thousands of hard-working families who stretched themselves to the limit to get on the property ladder, and are now finding they can no longer make ends meet," he said.

Fair treatment

The CML pointed out that 0.16% of all mortgages had been taken back by lenders in the first half of the year, up from 0.11% throughout the whole of 2007.

It said this rate was similar to that of the late 1990s, and was less than half the rate seen in the early 1990s.

Earlier this week the Financial Services Authority (FSA), warned lenders to treat their customers "fairly" if they were running into financial difficulty.

It said that repossession should be the last resort if someone was having trouble repaying their home loan.

Homeowners facing repossession must not bury their heads in the sand, a judge says.

Sue Edwards of the charity Citizens Advice said lenders were still being too aggressive.

"In too many cases lenders are still not doing everything they can to help borrowers in trouble, piling on extra charges, not negotiating with borrowers to come to a workable solution over repayment arrangements and using court action as a first rather than a last resort," she said.

One of the most vigorous repossessors has been the Northern Rock bank, now state owned.

It revealed this week that its own repossessions had risen by 67% in the past year, from 2,215 to 3,710.

Next week the Ministry of Justice will publish figures on the number of repossession orders granted by the courts.

Normally these do not actually lead to someone losing their home because the courts are very reluctant to sanction eventual eviction.

Instead, borrowers usually come to some sort of arrangement with their lenders.

The last set of figures, published in March, showed that repossession orders in the first three months of the year were up by 17% on the first quarter of 2007, at 27,530. 

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