Repossession ordeal 'led to suicide bid': Citizens Advice Bureaux are worried about a lender's policy, Caroline Merrell reports

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The Independent Online
CHELTENHAM & Gloucester Building Society begins legal action against borrowers for repossession of their property when they are as little as three months in arrears.

One C&G borrower whose difficulties with her mortgage payments went on for two years claims that her problems led her to two suicide attempts.

Liane Randall remortgaged her three-bedroomed detached house at Winslow, Buckinghamshire, for pounds 73,000 four years ago. She had paid pounds 89,000 for it in 1988. She took out two loans with the C&G - one for pounds 51,000 and one for home improvements for pounds 22,000. She also had more than pounds 38,000 of equity in the property.

Ms Randall started to run into problems three years ago when she lost her pounds 30,000-a-year job. She put her house on the market for pounds 78,000 - a loss of more than pounds 30,000 - and went on to income support.

Eight months later she still had not sold the property and her arrears had reached pounds 2,400. The society issued court proceedings against her.

The judge ruled that she had 28 days to find a buyer. 'I was advised to drop the price and change estate agents,' she says.

Just before the 28-day deadline she took one overdose, followed shortly by another. She spent 28 days in a psychiatric hospital.

C&G held off from repossessing her home and she was able to return. But the arrears continued to mount and the society eventually repossessed the property in July last year.

The house has now been sold for pounds 60,000 and earlier this month Ms Randall, now living in rented accommodation, was told by the C&G that she did not owe any money because its insurance had paid out.

Ms Randall had been helped by the Citizens Advice Bureau throughout the case. Rosalind Pearson, media officer at the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux, says: 'There have been a number of initiatives by the Government and lenders to stem the tide of repossessions, so this becomes the action of last resort.'

'In general CAB has found this has been the case when dealing with lenders. However, our experience with the C&G leaves us to doubt whether this is their overriding policy.'

The latest edition of Roof magazine, run by Shelter, the charity for the homeless, highlights a number of repossessions carried out by the C&G.

C&G refused to comment directly on Ms Randall's case. A spokeswoman said: 'We are firm but fair. We send borrowers two letters. The second is a final letter. After that we send a solicitor's letter instigating legal action.'

The solicitor's letter can go out when the borrower is three months in arrears as long as the debt is at least pounds 300. She said the society asked borrowers to contact their branch to see if anything could be done and at all times attempted to find a solution.

Other lenders give borrowers more time. Abbey National said it waited until the borrower was six months in arrears before starting proceedings.

(Photograph omitted)

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