Mortgage arrears numbers drop to lowest level since at least 1994

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Cases of mortgage arrears have fallen to their lowest levels in at least 23 years, banks and building societies have reported.

The number of mortgages in arrears amounting to 2.5% or more of the outstanding balance declined to 88,200 in the second quarter of 2017, trade body UK Finance reported.

This was the lowest level since at least 1994, when records started.

The total was 5% lower than in the first quarter and amounted to 0.8% of the more than 11 million mortgages outstanding in the UK.

But UK Finance cautioned that while home owners are being helped by current low interest rates, mortgage costs are "certain to rise at some stage" - and households should plan ahead. 

The number of homes being repossessed across the UK also fell in the second quarter to 1,800 - the joint lowest figure since the quarterly data started in 2008.

The same number of repossessions was also recorded in the final quarter of 2016.

The second quarter saw falls in the number of mortgages across all arrears bands, including those with the highest levels of arrears, UK Finance said.

Continuing a trend, the rate of buy-to-let arrears was lower than arrears in the owner-occupied sector - although the buy-to-let repossession rate was higher.

This is because lenders extend a high level of forbearance to owner-occupiers to help them overcome any period of financial difficulty and stay in their homes wherever possible, UK Finance said.

UK Finance head of mortgages Paul Smee said: "These figures show that the overwhelming majority of borrowers are managing their mortgage payments successfully, and many of those who have experienced some difficulty in the past are able to recover their financial position.

"The recent improvement in the number of mortgages with high levels of arrears is particularly welcome.

"Borrowers are being helped by low interest rates, but mortgage costs are certain to rise at some stage.

"It is important therefore for customers to plan ahead and consider how their finances would be affected in those circumstances.

"As ever, lenders will continue to help borrowers resolve any financial difficulty if possible, so customers should not hesitate to contact their lender if they anticipate any payment problems."

UK Finance is a new trade association, launched in July. It brings together activities previously carried out by several bodies, including the Council of Mortgage Lenders (CML).

Jonathan Harris, director of mortgage broker Anderson Harris, said some borrowers concerned about the possibility of their costs rising may want to consider locking into a fixed-rate mortgage. 

Mr Harris said: "It is vital that borrowers keep their lender in the loop if they are struggling with their mortgage.

"The data shows that lenders are being flexible and showing forbearance but it is much easier and less stressful to come up with solutions early on than further down the line when the options may be much more limited."