The recent announcement by the Council of Mortgage Lenders that their prediction of 53,000 repossessions in 2010 is now pessimistic, should not be taken as a sign that the worst is over. This failure to get predictions correct could create a culture of complacency amongst politicians, especially, as it follows on another inaccurate prediction by the CML in 2008 that there would be 75,000 repossessions in 2009.
That last prediction led directly to the current Scottish Government facing attacks last year that they weren’t doing enough to prevent rising repossessions and even calls for new legislation to be brought forward and passed in a day. New legislation has since been brought forward in the form of the Home Owner and Debtor Protection (Scotland) Act 2010, which arguably will ensure Scotland, come October, will have the highest level of legal protection in the UK for home owners facing repossession.
Part of the problem is that many of the protections that were introduced for home owners at the height of the credit crunch were arguably a knee jerk reaction and too much too soon. First of these was the UK Government’s Home Owner Mortgage Support Scheme introduced in January 2009, which allowed home owners struggling to pay their mortgages to enter into agreements with their lender and avoid repossession, providing they could pay at lest 30% of the interest on their mortgages. Then in England and Wales the Home Owners Support Fund introduced variations of Scotland’s own mortgage to rent and mortgage to shared equity schemes. Even the Department of Works and Pensions Support for Mortgage Interest Scheme was extended to allow more people to apply quicker.
The problem is the Home Owner Mortgage Support Scheme was intended to operate only for two years and the length of time applicants would be able to benefit from the DWPs Support for Mortgage Interest Scheme was reduced to two years, as part of the changes extending access. It has now also been revealed in England and Wales the amount available to home owners applying for the Home Owner Support Fund will be cut, although the total budget will remain the same, with the LibCon coalition arguing that reducing the deficit and keeping interest rates low will do more good. The problem is, however, if you reduce the amount available to local authorities and housing associations to buy homes, so home owners can remain in them as tenants, less social landlords will participate.
There is also the problem that one of the reasons repossession levels have not materialised at the level predicted is with the bursting of the housing bubble, many homes were thrown into negative equity, meaning many lenders were happy to provide customers with more time to pay, as even if homes were repossessed, the full amounts owed to the banks would not be repaid.
The danger is now with the Home Owner Mortgage Support Scheme possibly due to end in 2011, cuts to to the English and Wales Home Owner Support Fund and many of those who claimed Support for Mortgage Interest nearly exhausting their two years of assistance, repossession levels could begin rising. Add into this the LibCon Coalition deficit cuts, the prospect of increased unemployment and rising housing prices (with lenders possibly being less willing to show forebearance to customers) and it is clear we are no where near out of the woods yet. There is also no guarantee at present that we will not see an early return to increases in interest rates (although increasingly unlikely).
Even in Scotland our own Mortgage to Rent and Shared Equity Schemes are not without their faults, with increasing number of advisers complaining it is harder to find landlords willing to purchase homes and that the valuation figures used to decide which home owners can participate are too low.
It is vital that with the worst predictions of the Council of Mortgage Lenders failing to materialise and increasing budget cuts, we do not become complacent and think there is no more that can be done. It is telling that although the number of repossession actions in Scottish courts fell last year by 20% , they are expected to increase by 11% this year.
Repossessions, like unemployment, as an effect of a recession generally lags behind other effects. Scotland may be out of recession, but the worse social effects could be with us for some time.