The number of people facing the misery of repossession is falling, which is great news. The Council of Mortgage Lenders this week slashed its repossession predictions for the year to 48,000. Earlier in the year, it predicted some 75,000 people could lose their homes in 2009. Is this a sign that the recession really is over for home owners and the good times are back?
Not really. The reason for the revised forecast is a combination of "lender forbearance", government measures and the beneficial effect of low interest rates, according to the lenders. "We are glad to have been wrong on our previous forecast for mortgage repossessions this year," said the CML's director-general, Michael Coogan. "Although the economy is not out of the woods yet, we no longer expect a dramatic rise in properties being taken into possession, unless interest rates rise from the low levels that most commentators now expect to persist for some time."
Of course, such predictions are scant help for those who have already been turfed out of their homes by less forbearant lenders. And, let's remind ourselves, even if the final tally for the year is nearer the 48,000 the CML now predicts, that's still an upsetting increase of 8,000 – or 20 per cent – over last year's figure. Which means there's still little to smile about. Indeed, the latest quarterly repossession figures – for the July to September period – show an increase both over the previous quarter, of 3 per cent, and over the previous year, of 5 per cent.
Behind the statistics, of course, are thousands of tales of woe of people who are the real victims of banks' and building societies' previous irresponsible lending. I don't know how many of the predicted 48,000 homes that may be snatched back by lenders this year belong to families with children, but you can bet that there have been plenty of youngsters thrown out on to the streets by less forbearant lenders.
And despite the CML's citing of "government measures" being instrumental in it cutting its repossession predictions, I gather the Government's much-vaunted Home Owners Mortgage Support Scheme has been virtually useless in helping people to avoid having their homes taken away. Industry insiders tell me the take-up of the scheme has been paltry. Its aim of allowing struggling borrowers to take a holiday of up to two years from interest payments on their mortgage has simply failed, partly because of a lack of lender support in some areas, but partly because some people are simply unable to cope with the problems associated with severe debt.
For many people, the stress and anxiety of debt worries can be crippling, leading to a cycle of misery and deeper debt. It's totally understandable, which is why we need to do more to help folks in danger of losing their home. There are several debt charities around that offer free advice to help people get back control of their finances. Anyone struggling should go to their local Citizens Advice Bureau. Or go online to the Consumer Credit Counselling Service at www.cccs.co.uk. Its debt remedy could help save your home from a lender's clutches.