Property boom spurs big rise in evictions

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The Independent Online

The number of people losing their homes is rising so steeply that it is now greater than at the worst point of the recession nine years ago, according to unpublished government figures for England and Wales.

The number of people losing their homes is rising so steeply that it is now greater than at the worst point of the recession nine years ago, according to unpublished government figures for England and Wales.

Ministers said yesterday that private landlords, driven by the profits they can make from the booming house market, were to blame for the increase, which is based mainly on a rise in evictions rather than on repossessions.

The North has suffered worst, with the risk of eviction rising threefold since the early Nineties in many areas. But even in the prosperous South, evictions have shown a marked increase, doubling in Maidstone, Kent, and rising by half in the sought-after London borough of Wandsworth.

The figures, compiled by the Lord Chancellor's Department, show that the number of court-ordered evictions reached 71,256 last year, compared to 62,439 in 1991-92. They were obtained by the Liberal Democrats' environment spokesman, Don Foster, who called for an immediate government investigation.

"At a time of supposed economic growth, it appears that there are actually more people losing their homes than at the height of the recession in the early 1990s, and that most of these are the less well-off members of society who rent their homes," he said.

A spokesman for the Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions said that, with booming house prices, landlords can maximise profits by evicting tenants to raise rents or sell the property. But some of the evictions were of "nuisance neighbours" tackled under new legislation.

But according to Shelter, a homelessness charity, there has also been a significant increase in the number of evictions by "social" landlords - housing associations and local authorities - whose rents are rising faster than inflation, forcing tenants into arrears. In contrast, the mortgage companies have kept their promise to reduce the number of repossessions.

Chris Holmes, the director of Shelter, said many people who had lost their homes were being forced to live in bed and breakfast accommodation. In London, the number of people in b&bs had reached 6,000 and was still rising.

Private landlords were using legislation introduced in 1988 by the Tory government which allowed them to seek possession of properties after a minimum short-let of six months, he said. "Many landlords started letting their properties at the depth of the recession and now see the sale of their home as making them a significant profit."

The greatest increases in evictions since the recession have tended to be in the areas of greatest social deprivation, particularly northern and metropolitan areas, highlighting a north-south divide.

"While the property market is booming, the incentives to take action against tenants or mortgage-holders in difficulty are bound to be greater," Mr Foster said. "This evidence comes at a time when financial pressures on local authorities are very high."

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