Repossessions fall 24% in 2010

The Council of Mortgage Lenders today revealed that, at 36,300, the number of repossessions by first-charge mortgage lenders in 2010 accounted for just 0.3% of all mortgages.

The number was 24% lower than in 2009, while the number of mortgages ending 2010 with arrears of 2.5% or more of the outstanding balance also fell by 13% on the previous year-end, standing at 169,600 – 1.49% of all loans.

During the fourth quarter, the number of repossessions was 7,900, down 11% from 8,900 in the third quarter, and down 26% on the 10,700 in the same period a year ago. This was the fifth consecutive quarterly decline in repossessions.

On arrears, the 1.49% of mortgages with 2.5% or more of arrears at the end of the fourth quarter was the lowest share since the third quarter of 2008 – 1.29%. It compared with 176,100 arrears cases at the end of September, and 196,000 at the end of 2009.

Overall, the latest data was broadly in line with the CML’s most recent forecasts for the 2010 outturn of 175,000 arrears cases and 36,000 repossessions.

The CMLsays it continues to expect a 2011 outturn of 40,000 repossessions and 180,000 mortgages in arrears.

However, uncertainties clearly remain not only if interest rates rise, but also because of recent developments such as the reduction in the rate at which Support for Mortgage Interest is paid (down from 6.08% to 3.63%), the impact of changes to the court process in possession cases in the courts in Scotland, and the reduction in the price that will be paid for properties acquired under the mortgage rescue scheme delivered through local authorities.

The CML says it will be monitoring developments closely.

Michael Coogan, director general of the Council of Mortgage Lenders, says: “Lenders are continuing to work hard to help their borrowers who face temporary financial difficulties. Anyone who is worried about being unable to pay their mortgage should contact their lender and seek advice at an early stage from Citizens Advice, Shelter, National Debtline or other local advice agencies.

“This helps to prevent problems escalating and becoming more difficult to resolve. As the numbers clearly demonstrate, repossession is a last resort. Most people’s payment difficulties can be managed and controlled for a period until their circumstances improve.

“As we go through 2011, the number of people facing payment pressures may increase if interest rates rise, and as a result of the spending cuts that have resulted in reductions in the level of public support available. We will be monitoring developments closely, but at present we continue to expect the number of arrears and repossessions to be in line with our forecasts of 40,000 repossessions and 180,000 arrears cases as at the end of 2011.”

David Birne, insolvency partner at HW Fisher & Company chartered accountants, says the figures are encouraging.

He says: “A big saviour for many households has been the low interest rate environment. Rates have been at record lows for an inconceivably long time, but at some point this will end.

“When rates do rise, and inflation may force the Monetary Policy Committee’s hand sooner rather than later, the number of repossessions and people in arrears could spike sharply.

“At present, a lot of households are stretched but they are surviving. But when interest rates start to rise, many will rapidly succumb. Even a percentage point rise in Bank Rate will send many people over the edge. What happens when rates rise to 5% or more?”