Melanie Bien: If mortgage problems mount, don't hide away

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The Independent Online

Roger Evans is an Independent on Sunday reader threatened with proceedings for eviction by his mortgage lender.

After missing several repayments, Mr Evans got in touch with the bank, NatWest, to agree on a new repayment schedule. He'd had a lot of bad luck - been the victim of a vicious mugging, become depressed and lost his job - and found it difficult to cope. He kept NatWest informed of what was going on during this time. He didn't stick his head in the sand and hope the problem would go away. In short, he did exactly what he should have done.

But now, just as some semblance of normality is returning to his life, and he is making repayments as agreed with NatWest, the bank has decided to issue a summons for eviction anyway. He's already had one day off work to attend court and incurred £200 in court costs. Because the case was adjourned after NatWest could not supply all the information Mr Evans had requested, he will have to take another day off when the case comes to court again.

At a time when interest rates are rising and an increasing number of homeowners may be realising that they have overstretched themselves by taking out a mortgage they cannot now comfortably repay, NatWest's attitude gives me cause for concern.

It's a harsh way of treating someone who's doing his best to cope. The bank says it is simply protecting itself because Mr Evans has defaulted twice on mortgage repayments in the past. He's not disputing that, but now he's back in full-time employment, he has tried to come to an arrangement that he can fulfil. He thought the lender was happy with this but it seems now that NatWest wants further reassurances.

Since receiving the court summons, Mr Evans says he feels depressed all over again. I'm not surprised: to have the threat of your home being repossessed hanging over you is a terrible position to be in. It's frightening, all-encompassing and certainly depressing.

And receiving threatening court papers in the post, which don't even spell out what the lender is after - if NatWest's explanation is anything to go by - is unhelpful, at the very least. It's hardly likely to encourage people to try to come to an agreement with their lender if they can't afford to repay their mortgage. If the lender is still going to drag you through the courts regardless, then what's the point?

In the case of Mr Evans, surely NatWest would be better off leaving him alone to get on with his job and pay his mortgage? He is more likely to be able to do this if he hasn't got the bank breathing down his neck: remember, it wasn't that long ago that he was being treated for debilitating depression.

Under pressure, Mr Evans could crack - and that would help no one. NatWest would probably get its money back eventually, once the property was sold, but it could take months. And Mr Evans would be thrown on the mercy of the state, which would have to find him somewhere else to live.

When the case resumes after the adjournment, I hope the judge throws it out, having taken into account Mr Evans' efforts to repay his mortgage. I also hope that cases like these don't dissuade those struggling to repay their mortgage from getting in touch with their lender and explaining the situation.

It is still the best way of handling things. In most instances you should be able to come to an agreed schedule of repayments, although it's important to ensure that these are achievable on your part. There's no point agreeing to a certain repayment amount because you are frightened not to, if several months later you default yet again because you can't afford it.

If you can't face dealing with your lender directly, contact the Citizens Advice Bureau (details can be found in the Yellow Pages). You will be able to talk to an adviser who will handle negotiations with the lender on your behalf.

The very worst thing you can do is ignore the problem in the hope it will go away. Seek advice as early as possible and try to come to an agreement with your lender. Then, even if the case does end up in court, as it did for Mr Evans, at least you can defend your actions - something you can't do if you hide your head in the sand and do nothing.

m.bien@independent.co.uk

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