Home repossessions and arrears in UK fell in 2016, latest data shows

The number of properties in the UK repossessed last year fell by almost 25% with the housing market experiencing a clear downward trend in arrears.

The new data from the Council of Mortgage Lenders (CML) shows that last year’s total of 7,700 cases of possession compared with 10,200 in 2015, and was the lowest number since 1982. Over the course of 2016, the number of mortgages in arrears also fell by 7%.

However, although the data show a clear underlying downward trend in the number of possessions, some care is needed in making annual comparisons, according to the CML as the timing of some possessions last year may have been affected by a court case that caused lenders to review their processes.

The number of possession cases declined in the fourth quarter of 2016, as well as over the year as a whole. In the final three months of the year, 1,800 properties were taken into possession, down from 1,900 in the preceding quarter and 2,200 in the final quarter of 2015.

At the end of last year, there were 94,100 mortgages with arrears of 2.5% or more of the outstanding balance, a slight increase on the total of 93,300 at the end of the third quarter. But that compared to a total of 101,700 at the end of 2015.

Across the market as a whole, there was significant improvement last year in the number of mortgages with more modest levels of arrears regarded as up to 5% of the outstanding balance. There was, however, an increase over 2016 in the number of mortgages with arrears of more than 10% of the balance, from 23,700 to 26,000 but the CML said that this figure may also have been distorted by the timing of possession actions.

In the buy to let sector, the number of mortgages in arrears was unchanged in the fourth quarter of last year, at 5,000, but 11% lower than at the end of 2015. The number of owner occupier mortgages in arrears edged upwards in the final quarter of last year, from 88,300 to 89,200, but was lower than the total at the end of the previous year.

The number of buy to let properties taken into possession in the final quarter of last year was unchanged, at 600, but lower than in the last three months of 2015. In the final quarter of 2016, a total of 1,200 owner occupied properties were taken into possession, down from 1,300 in the preceding quarter and 1,500 in the final three months of 2015.

‘It is encouraging to see another improvement in arrears and possessions during a year in which borrowers were clearly helped by the downward trend in mortgage rates. But customers do need to be ready for a time when the outlook may not be so benign, with pressure on real incomes increasing and as interest rates begin to move upwards again,’ said CML director general Paul Smee.

‘As ever, borrowers who fear they may miss a payment should speak to their lender. Lenders remain committed to helping borrowers work through any period of temporary payment difficulty and remain in their home wherever possible,’ he added.