LONDON (Reuters) - Irresponsible decisions and aggressive tactics to recover arrears by mortgage lenders, together with poor advice from brokers have left thousands of people facing homelessness, a report says.
Citizens Advice said the dream of home ownership had turned sour for many people on low incomes, who had taken out mortgages or secured loans with sub-prime lenders only to wind up deep in debt and facing the prospect of losing their home.
However, the Council of Mortgage Lenders (CML) said the report was too simplistic in its criticism.
More than 57,000 people sought the charity’s advice on mortgage and secured loan arrears in 2006/7, up 11 percent on the year, and up to 770,000 people missed at least one mortgage or secured loan payment in the 12 months, its research showed.
At the same time, repossession action in the courts has risen sharply and is now at a similar level to that seen during the housing market downturn of the early 1990s, the charity said.
“The cavalier behaviour of some brokers and sub-prime lenders is seriously undermining home ownership and hitting the most vulnerable borrowers hardest,” said David Harker, chief executive of Citizens Advice.
“Many sub-prime lenders are flouting the rules on responsible lending by granting loans when it’s clear the borrower will not be able to afford to repay it from the very outset, then getting tough immediately things go wrong.
“Far from providing housing security and a valuable asset, home ownership has proved a fast track to debt and homelessness for many vulnerable borrowers on low incomes.”
Citizens Advice said regulation should be toughened up to ensure that lenders and brokers carry out basic checks to make sure people can afford mortgages, and that court action should be seen as a last resort.
The Council of Mortgage Lenders said the report was based on a “very skewed sample” of borrowers — those forced to seek the charity’s advice — and was not typical of the “vast majority of cases where lenders work constructively with borrowers to get them over periods of financial difficulty and keep them in their homes”.
CML director-general Michael Coogan said: “Citizens Advice has taken a sensationalist tone in this report, which risks throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
“In fact, sub-prime mortgages give people a way to rehabilitate their finances and are important in a financially inclusive mortgage market.”
The report is based on 1,200 case studies from 360 Citizens Advice bureaus in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.