Business

Home repossessions fall further in UK

Houses under a dark sky
Image caption The number of homes being seized by lenders is on a downward path, figures show

The number of homes repossessed by mortgage lenders fell again in the second quarter of the year.

Lenders seized 9,400 properties in April, May and June, 400 fewer than in the first quarter of 2010, according to the Council of Mortgage Lenders (CML).

Repossessions have now fallen for three quarters in a row since they reached a peak of 12,100 last September.

The number of mortgages in arrears also fell, dropping 5% during the quarter to stand at 178,200 at the end of June.

However, the CML's director general, Michael Coogan, said the situation was "far from a healthy all-clear".

"Mortgage difficulties have so far been contained at lower levels than we expected at the start of the year, and by comparison to the 1990s recession," he said.

"However, the safety net for borrowers is weakened by the prospect of higher interest rates, a possible rise in unemployment, [and] reduced government support for mortgage payments."

Court actions

The CML said it now expected only 39,000 homes to be repossessed this year, down from its previous forecast of 53,000.

That expectation is supported by evidence from the courts in England and Wales where the number of attempts by lenders to seize the homes of defaulting borrowers has fallen again.

In the second quarter of the year the number of possession claims launched by lenders fell by 5% to 17,774, statistics from the Ministry of Justice show.

Apart from a brief rise in the second quarter of 2009, the number of claims has been on a downward trend since the start of 2008, when they reached a peak of nearly 40,000 in the first quarter of the year.

The number of claims that were then granted by the court also fell, down by 7% from the first quarter of the year to 13,389.

That too was far lower than the peak number of more than 28,000, recorded in the last quarter of 2008.

Nearly half of all orders still end up being suspended by the courts, typically to give the home owner time to pay.

Lender support

The CML explained that despite the apparent improvement in arrears and repossessions, some people with high arrears were still perilously close to losing their homes.

The proportion of all mortgages with the lowest levels of arrears - where payments are behind by between 1.5% and 2.5% of the outstanding loan - has fallen to 0.7%, or 80,100.

But the proportion of mortgage holders with very high levels of arrears - amounting to more than 10% of the outstanding loan - is still stuck at 26,400, or 0.23% of all mortgage holders.

"There is still a significant segment of borrowers whose arrears may have been stabilised through lender forbearance or other support, but whose situation is not improving enough to enable them to claw their way out of problems," the CML said.

"These finely-balanced arrears cases are the ones who may be at most risk of tipping into repossession if there are negative changes such as higher interest rates or reduced benefit support," it warned.

The Consumer Credit Counselling Service (CCCS) warned that repossessions were likely to rise in the coming year.

"A housing market recovery may lead to an increase in the number of repossessions as lenders enforce suspended possession orders after previous leniency," warned Malcolm Hurlston, CCCS chairman.

"This situation is likely to be aggravated in October when support for mortgage interest payments for those who have lost their jobs are halved from 6.08% to 3.09%, to match the Bank of England's average mortgage rate."

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