Fury as housing minister John Healey says loss of home can be 'best thing'

The housing minister provoked fury yesterday after he suggested that the "best thing" for some struggling families would be to have their homes repossessed.

John Healey was speaking as new figures showed numbers of evictions have reached their highest level for 14 years. A total of 46,000 householders lost their homes last year.

Mr Healey's comments came in a radio interview when he was asked why repossession numbers were so high.

He replied: "In some cases it is the best thing for the people who are struggling with these mortgages."

The minister added: "Sometimes it is impossible for people to maintain the mortgage commitments they've got... it may be the best thing in those circumstances."

Last night, Grant Shapps, the Conservative housing minister, called on Mr Healey to apologise to families who had lost their homes during the recession. He said: "This proves once again that Labour ministers have completely lost touch with reality."

Sarah Teather, the Liberal Democrat housing spokeswoman, said: "These comments are grossly insensitive to families booted out of their home. If this is John Healey's best response to record repossession figures then he should just shut up."

Campbell Robb, the chief executive of the housing charity Shelter, said: "Behind each one of these numbers is a heartbreaking story of a family losing their home and having to rebuild their lives."

The repossession figures, published by the Council of Mortgage Lenders, were lower than the original forecast that 75,000 families would lose their home during the year. But they still represented an increase of 15 per cent on 2008. More than 188,000 homeowners were also at least 2.5 per cent behind in mortgage repayments.