United Kingdom

Mortgage re-possessions

Graphs on this page:

Supporting information:

Key points

  • Mortgage re-possessions rose sharply between 2004 and 2009 – from 8,000 in 2004 to 48,000 in 2009 – before falling back somewhat in 2010 (to 36,000).  They are currently similar to the levels of the mid-1990s.
  • Court claims for re-possession also rose sharply between 2004 and 2008 before falling in both 2009 and 2010. 1
  • As court claims for re-possession are an indicator of future re-possessions, the fall in 2010 suggests that the number of actual re-possessions will continue to fall in 2011.
  • Mortgage owners are a far more diverse group than they once were.  One in six heads of households with a mortgage are now not in full-time work and therefore arguably in an economically vulnerable position.  This is a similar proportion to a decade ago but much higher than thirty years ago, when it was one in twenty.
  • Not surprisingly, the number of households who are homeowners with mortgages increases with income.  However, the number of households who have high mortgage interest repayments does not increase with income.  So, for example, 500,000 homeowners in the poorest fifth expend more than a quarter of their after-tax income on mortgage interest repayments and this represents half of all mortgage holders in the poorest fifth.

Why this indicator was originally chosen

The 1980s saw a rapid contraction of social housing and expansion of home owners buying their home with the help of a mortgage.  A large part of this was due to the government’s ‘Right to Buy’ policy which allowed council tenants to buy their homes from the local authority. It also left a considerable local variation in the availability of council housing.

With owner occupation at a far higher level, large numbers of people became vulnerable to arrears, re-possession and negative equity during the downturn in the housing market in the early 1990s.  Reduced job security meant that that those with a mortgage were more likely than before to find themselves unable to maintain the repayments on the money they had borrowed.  Falling house prices in the 1990s, a result in part of lower inflation, meant that the home might have to be sold for less than it was bought, leaving the erstwhile owner with a continuing, insupportable debt.

Although much less of an issue than in the early 1990s, mortgage debts continue to represent a problem for many people, with powerful detrimental effects on standards of living and on stress and potential implications for re-possession.

Definitions and data sources

The first graph shows two statistics for each year since 1990, namely:

  • The actual number of mortgage re-possessions during the year.
  • The number of court claims during the year that led to an outright order for mortgage re-possession, noting that this number excludes suspended orders as these do not directly relate to repossessions.

In effect, the trend in the second statistic (claims) is a leading indicator of the likely future trend in the first statistic (actual repossessions).

Note that the graph no longer shows data on the number of households in arrears.  This is because, as from 2008, the Council of Mortgage Lenders (CML) has ceased publishing the relevant data.  And alternative data from the Financial Services Authority (FSA) only goes back to 2007.

The data source for the first graph is Ministry of Justice (MoJ) Mortgage and landlord possession statistics.  Note that, whilst the data on court orders relates to England and Wales, that on actual re-possessions relates to the United Kingdom.  This is because the MoJ actually obtains its re-possessions data from the CML.

The second graph shows the proportion of households with mortgages where the head of the household has the economic status shown.  The total is effectively the proportion of households with mortgages where the head of the household is not in full-time work.  The data is from the household dataset from the English Housing Survey (EHS) and relates to England only.

The third graph shows the number of households with mortgages by level of household income.  For each fifth of the income distribution, the number is divided according to the proportion of their net household income that their mortgage interest repayments represents, namely: less than 25%; between 25 and 50%; and more than 50%.

The FSA describes a mortgage loan to gross income multiple as ‘high’ if it exceeds 2.75 for a single person or 3.5 for a couple.  Mortgage interest rates average, say, around 6%.  The ratio of net to gross income averages around 70%.  So, the FSA is effectively saying that a mortgage is ‘high’ if the interest payments as a proportion of net household income exceed 24% (2.75 * 0.06 * 0.7) for a single person and 30% (3.5 * 0.06 * 0.7) for a couple.  In this context, the households in the middle bars on the graph (25-50% of net households income) can reasonably be described as having ‘high’ mortgage interest payments whilst those in the bottom bar (more than 50% of net household income) can reasonably be described as having ‘very high’ mortgage interest payments.

The data source for the third graph is Households Below Average Income, based on the Family Resources Survey (FRS), and the data relates to the United Kingdom.  Income is disposable household income before deducting housing costs and the allocation of households to income quintiles uses ‘equivalised household income’, which means that the household incomes have been adjusted to put them on a like-for-like basis given the size and composition of the households.  The averaging over the latest three years has been done to improve the statistical reliability of the results.

Overall adequacy of the indicator: limited.  The decision of the CML in 2008 to stop publishing any statistics on arrears and re-possessions is particularly unfortunate given the scale of change currently taking place.  Nevertheless, the Ministry of Justice has extended the range of statistics that it publishes and the overall trends over time are clear.

External links

Relevant 2007 Public Service Agreements

None directly relevant.

The numbers

Graph 1

Year Actual re-possessions

(United Kingdom)

Court orders for re-possession

(England and Wales)

1990 43,900 54,700
1991 75,500 73,900
1992 68,600 43,000
1993 58,600 32,000
1994 49,200 30,500
1995 49,400 27,800
1996 42,600 22,500
1997 32,800 22,500
1998 33,900 25,300
1999 30,000 23,500 (old basis), 21,900 (new basis)
2000 22,900 18,900
2001 18,200 17,700
2002 12,000 16,100
2003 8,500 16,000
2004 8,200 19,600
2005 14,500 31,900
200621,000 44,800
200725,900 49,200
200840,000 59,700
200947,900 39,300
201036,300 30,200

Graph 2

Year Part-time employment Unemployed Economically inactive Total
1981 1% 3% 1% 5%
1993/94 4% 6% 8% 18%
1996/97 4% 2% 5% 11%
1997/98 4% 2% 9% 15%
1998/99 5% 1% 9% 15%
1999/00 4% 1% 9% 15%
2000/01 4% 1% 9% 14%
2001/02 6% 1% 8% 14%
2002/03 6% 1% 7% 14%
2003/04 6% 1% 6% 13%
2004/05 6% 1% 6% 13%
2005/06 6% 1% 7% 14%
2006/077% 1% 6% 14%
2007/086% 1% 6% 13%
2008/096% 1% 8% 15%
2009/107% 2% 8% 17%

Graph 3

GroupHousehold income quintiles (before deducting housing costs)
Poorest fifth2ndMiddle fifth4thrichest fifth
Mortgage interest is 50% or more of disposable income 310,000 50,000 30,000 20,000 10,000
Mortgage interest is 25-50% of disposable income170,000 250,000 320,000 340,000 320,000
Mortgage interest is less than 25% of disposable income440,000 930,000 1,540,000 2,120,000 2,780,000
1. Note that this fall has coincided with the introduction of a ‘Mortgage Pre-Action Protocol’ in November 2008, which may have been a factor in the reduction.