Home repossessions edged up in the third quarter of 2017, UK Finance reports


The number of homes being repossessed edged up from a low point in the third quarter of 2017, prompting concerns for borrowers living "on the margins" as interest rates rise.

There were 1,900 repossessions in the third quarter, equalling the total seen in the first three months of this year, according to trade body UK Finance.

In the second quarter there had been 1,800 repossessions - the lowest since the quarterly data started in 2008.

Arrears numbers among those who have fallen furthest behind with their mortgage repayments are also creeping up.

Within the latest total, the number of owner-occupied properties being repossessed increased for the first time since 2014.

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The number of owner-occupier repossessions increased in the third quarter from 1,100 to 1,300, while buy-to-let repossessions fell from 700 to 600.

While repossession numbers edged up, the number of mortgages in arrears continued to fall, reaching its lowest level since UK Finance's records started in 1994.

At 88,300 in the third quarter, the number of loans in arrears of 2.5% or more of the outstanding balance was 2% lower than in the second quarter of the year.

But within the arrears total, the number of mortgages with severe arrears of 10% or more of the outstanding balance increased from 25,500 to 25,600.

Last week, the Bank of England base rate increased from 0.25% to 0.5%, meaning millions of home owners on variable mortgage rates face the prospect of rising costs.

UK Finance's head of mortgages policy, June Deasy, said: "Even a small rise in mortgage possessions is disappointing but, after a long period of declining numbers, it was inevitable that they would rise again at some stage.

"Both arrears and possessions remain low by historical standards and look set to be lower for the year than we predicted at the start of 2017.

"We expect the vast majority of mortgage borrowers to continue to manage their finances successfully but they should continue to keep their plans under review.

"Any customer who thinks they may experience payment difficulty should always speak to their lender at the earliest opportunity."

Jeremy Leaf, a north London estate agent and a former residential chairman of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, said: "Looking forward, upward pressure on interest rates is likely to increase arrears as borrowers 'on the margins' always tend to be most vulnerable."

Jonathan Harris, director of mortgage broker Anderson Harris, said: "Clearly, there is no room for complacency. Possessions have long been declining but that can change and borrowers need to be prepared.

"We suspect that, when it comes to their finances, there are many people who don't have a buffer to tide them over should they get into difficulty.

"Borrowers must plan ahead and consider how they will cope if interest rates do rise further."

He suggested some borrowers who are worried about their mortgage costs increasing may want to consider a fixed-rate loan.