Mortgage arrears level 'reaches record high'

THE FRAGILE housing market recovery today suffered a major setback with figures showing that mortgage arrears are still rising. A record 800,150 homeowners - 1 in 12 - are behind with their mortgages despite cuts in interest rates, according to a survey for Roof Magazine.

The grimmest finding is that the number of people more than six months behind with mortgage payments has risen by 24 per cent in the past year - from 290,080 to 360,100.

A high level of mortgage arrears acts as a brake on recovery, as people who are behind with payments are unable to move house. They are also likely to have other debts, as research has found that the mortgage payment is usually the last thing to go.

The Roof Magazine findings - a snapshot of the position as it was on 31 March - follow other surveys, which showed that people were holding back from selling in the hope that house prices would rise.

But potential buyers are also unwilling to pay more, which leads experts to predict that the housing market will take at least five years to return to the prices of the late 1980s.

Roof Magazine's editor, Tim Dwelly, said: 'The omens for the housing market are grim. The number of people living in homes in arrears has now reached two million - almost double the population of Birmingham. With negative equity adding to the woe, people in trouble cannot simply sell up and scale down, as some have suggested.'

There is some good news in that the number of repossessions has fallen from 68,600 in the previous year, to 60,500. But the number of repossesions is still high - in 1991, there were 47,940, and in 1990, there were 20,640. In the early 1980s, at the height of the last recession, only 5,000 homes were repossessed.

The survey is based on data from 41 mortgage lenders, covering some 9.92 million loans - more than 60 per cent of the total number of mortgages. Of these, 198,000 were two months in arrears, 242,050 were three to five months in arrears, and 360,100 were six or more months in arrears.