Home repossessions rose at the start of this year, but the figure was still a lot lower than the same period last year, according to new data.
The Council of Mortgage Lenders said the upswing followed a usual seasonal pattern, with 8,000 properties repossessed between January and March, 300 more than in the final quarter of 2012.
But it was the second-lowest quarterly figure since the winter of 2007, and compared to 9,600 homes taken back between January and March a year ago, as record-low interest rates are helping repossessions remain near five-year lows.
Around 20 per cent of repossessions were on buy-to-let rather than owner-occupier properties.
The repossession rate remained at 0.07 per cent – meaning fewer than 1 in 4,000 mortgaged properties were taken into possession by lenders.
‘Mortgage arrears and repossessions have stabilised at levels lower than many anticipated when the economic downturn started,’ CML director general Paul Smee commented.
‘Low interest rates, lender forbearance and tactical public policy support have combined to ensure that repossession really is a last resort.
As well as the Bank of England holding its benchmark rate at a record low of 0.5 per cent since March 2009, the state’s credit-boosting Funding for Lending Scheme is also driving down borrowing costs, with a mortgage rates war ongoing.
CML graph: Repossessions rate over the last decade
The figures appeared to show little impact from rising unemployment, which increased by 70,000 to 2.56million between December and February. That is the worst total since last summer, giving the UK a jobless rate of 7.9 per cent, ONS data showed last month.
Mortgage arrears remain stable, the CML added, with 159,800 – or 1.4 per cent – of mortgages in arrears by 2.5 per cent or more of the outstanding balance. That rate is level with the previous quarter, and a year earlier.
CML director Paul Smee added: ‘Anyone who is worried about their mortgage can be assured that, as long as they take steps early to address them, most problems can be contained.
‘Lenders very much want to enable people to stay in their homes wherever they have sustainable prospects of getting their mortgage back on track.’
But there was another rise in the number of mortgages where arrears add up to 10 per cent or more of the total loan – they rose by 2,000 to to 30,300 from a year earlier, and have been rising throughout the downturn.
The lending body predicts a total of 35,000 repossessions this year, compared with 33,900 during 2012.
The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) recently issued a ‘wake-up call’ to homeowners on interest-only mortgages, and said many have no strategy or insufficient funds to pay them off.
Around 2.6million interest-only mortgages are due for repayment over the next 30 years but research has revealed that one in 10 people on such a deal have no plan for paying the money back.
The continued squeeze on the mortgage market was illustrated by a fall in the total number of mortgages outstanding. That dropped to 11.26million from 11.38million a year earlier.
The total has fallen steadily through the downturn, reflecting buyers’ struggles to get on to the housing ladder.