Home repossessions 'down by 7.5%'

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Empty houses
Image caption,
The CML may revise its forecast in the summer, it said.

The number of homes repossessed in the UK fell by 7.5% in the first three months of 2010, according to lenders.

Figures show that the number of homes repossessed dropped from 10,600 in the last three months of 2009 to 9,800 in the first quarter of 2010.

This was also lower than the 13,200 of the same period a year ago, the Council of Mortgage Lenders (CML) said.

But many homeowners remained vulnerable to falling into arrears, the CML said.

It added that it could revise its forecast of 53,000 repossessions in 2010 in the summer, describing it as "pessimistic" if there are no further economic shocks.

'No complacency'

The number of homes repossessed was at its lowest in two years, down 7.5% on the previous three months and 26% lower than the first three months of 2009.

Low interest rates were the key to the dropping figures, allowing people - even those who have lost their jobs - to stave off the threat of repossession owing to low mortgage bills.

The figures also reveal that the proportion of mortgage holders getting into payment difficulties also fell in the first three months of the year.

The number of home loans in arrears equivalent to at least 2.5% of the outstanding mortgage balance stood at 186,300 in the first three months of the year.

This was down from 196,400 in the last quarter of 2009, and below the 206,800 of the first quarter of last year.

But the figures gave "no cause for complacency", according to CML director general Michael Coogan.

"We hope and expect to be able to revise down our 53,000 forecast for repossessions in 2010, but we are acutely conscious of the beneficial influence that low interest rates and the package of support have played so far," he said.

Mortgage rescue

Some 629 households have been helped under the mortgage rescue scheme in England, separate figures released by the Department for Communities and Local Government show.

Image caption,
Some households still face pressure to pay for mortgages

When it was launched under the previous Labour government in January 2009, ministers said that up to 6,000 households could be helped by the scheme.

This scheme allows people to sell their property to a local authority or housing association and remain in it as a tenant, or to sell part of the home in a shared equity deal to reduce mortgage payments.

Another 1,849 applications were ongoing by the end of March. In these cases, lenders would hold off any repossession action.

The CML said government support for homeowners had helped keep a lid on repossessions, which are much lower than during the housing slump of the early 1990s.

It has called on the new government to maintain a commitment to those in difficulty - writing a joint letter with Shelter and Citizen's Advice to the new Chancellor, George Osborne.

This would be particularly important as the government introduces cuts to tackle the fiscal deficit, lenders said.

"There is a risk that higher interest rates or unemployment would tip into arrears a number of finely-balanced households who are currently coping, and would undermine the capacity of households struggling to get back on their feet," the CML said.

"Lenders have worked hard to help their borrowers and are continuing to do so, but the financial situation for many households remains fragile."

The group said those with entrenched debt problems were still struggling to restore their financial position and repay arrears.

But low interest rates and relatively stable employment were probably helping to prevent new households getting into difficulties.

In the courts

Separately, figures from the Ministry of Justice showed that the number of potential repossessions in the pipeline in England and Wales was also falling.

The number of possession actions - the first stage of an attempted repossession by a lender - stood at 18,504 in the first three months of the year. This was 8% lower than the previous quarter and 24% down on the same period last year.

The number of possession orders agreed by judges also fell to 14,373 - a reduction of 13% on the previous quarter and 15% down on a year ago.

In November 2008, a mortgage pre-action protocol was introduced which said lenders would have to demonstrate to the courts that they had exhausted all possibilities before going ahead with a repossession.

A spokeswoman for the DCLG said: "Figures published today by the Council of Mortgage Lenders and the Ministry of Justice show that the threat of repossession remains very real for homeowners across the country.

"That is why Communities and Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles will be asking the new housing minister to take a fresh look at existing government schemes which help homeowners struggling to pay their mortgage and make sure that they offer the best deal for home-owners, as well as value for money for the taxpayer."

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