Losing your home is a terrifying prospect for anyone with a mortgage. The Council of Mortgage Lenders calculated that 10,200 people in the UK lost their homes in 2015, and another 23,700 were severely in arrears on their mortgage payments. Here’s what to do if you’re facing problems and dealing with repossession.
- Do I have to be repossessed?
- So what can I do now to avoid repossession?
- What do the lenders do?
- Where can I go for free help and advice about repossession?
- Is sale and rent back an answer?
- Should I go for equity release?
- What happens if they send the bailiffs round?
- How do I deal with the emotional trauma of repossession?
Not necessarily. Lenders don’t want the great expense and effort of having to repossess your home, so being turfed out on to the street is avoidable.
There are things you can do, and help available, but you must act as quickly as possible.
There has to be a legal reason for your home to be repossessed. The most common reasons are:
- Mortgage arrears
- Failure to pay secured loans
If you don’t keep up with the repayments on your mortgage or a secured loan (that’s a loan that is “secured” against your house), your lender can take legal action against you to repossess and sell your home in order to get their hands on the money that you owe them. Remember, even if you keep up to date with your mortgage, you could lose your home if you fall behind with payments on a secured loan.
Normally two months of arrears is enough for a lender to take action. This doesn’t mean instant repossession: most lenders will try to come to an arrangement to clear the arrears first. On the whole they don’t want to repossess your home, but if they think that you won’t be able to pay the mortgage, they will start the ball rolling.
N.B. Your lender can’t just throw you out – they have to follow the correct procedures and get a court order stating that you have to leave the property. In many cases, even at the last stage just before eviction, repossession can be stopped.
- Insurance. Check whether your repayments are covered by an insurance policy. Some types of medical insurance will pay out if the reason you can’t afford your mortgage is because you had to take time off work due to illness. You may also have a mortgage payment protection policy, which could cover your mortgage for a period if you have a long-term illness or an accident, or if you are made redundant.
- Communicate. Tell your mortgage lender you run into trouble. Some lenders will allow you to keep paying a smaller portion of your mortgage; if you are out of work for example, and are likely to find a new job soon, your lender might be prepared to accept a smaller regular amount.
- Check your benefits. See if you are entitled to any benefits that could help with repayments, for example universal credit or support for mortgage interest. Proof that a payment is imminent (and that you can cover any shortfall) can be enough to stop repossession in its tracks.
- Get advice immediately. If you are being threatened with repossession, talk to a free adviser immediately. Don’t be conned by one of the companies that offer to buy your home for you or offer you a quick but expensive loan. Speak to people who will give you genuine, unbiased, free advice. The charity Shelter has an Advice Services Directory which lists free housing advice services near you. Or you can go to your nearest Citizens Advice Bureau for free, immediate help.
Banks and building societies are quite sympathetic to customers who have money troubles, so when you miss one payment, you’ll probably get a friendly phone call.
- After missing two payments, you’ll get a letter – if you haven’t already told your lender that you are having problems.
- A third missed payment may trigger legal action: the bank will have to get a court order before they can take your home away.
- Things can escalate quickly, so it is really important to speak to your bank as soon as you know you are having difficulties. Remember, lenders do not want to have to repossess your home (after all it costs them money to go to court), so always speak to them, even if you don’t want to.
- There are fabulous resources available to you completely free of charge. They are 100% independent and offer excellent advice, tailored to your precise circumstances.
Follow the steps below and you can’t go wrong.
Find out and write down the following (and don’t leave anything out):
- All the debts you have: mortgage, remortgage, secured loans, unsecured loans, credit cards, store cards, overdrafts and any others
- The unpaid bills you have: utilities, hire purchase, car finance and any others
- How much your home is worth
- Any sources of income you have: salary, benefits, pension, annuity etc
- Any money you have saved or assets you own (shares, other properties etc).
Contact one or more of the organisations below. All of them provide expert advice completely free of charge to help anyone dealing with repossession. They have no hidden intentions: their only goal is to give you the best help and advice possible. In the case of the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) their advice goes beyond the subject of finance.
They will ask you for all the information that you have put together in Step One. Once they have gone through that, they will advise you on the best course of action according to your specific circumstances. They will even make sure you are getting all the money you are entitled to from sources such as benefits and tax credits.
The Shelter website has very clear, helpful advice as to what you can do now if you are facing repossession. Advice is here on what to do if you have had letters from your mortgage company, your case is being taken to court, or you are unable to pay the mortgage. It also has information on voluntary repossession and what a mortgage rescue scheme is.
The people at Shelter can take your case for you and argue with your lenders and bailiffs: they can even represent you in court if you need it. The earlier they get your information the better, though, so if you think you are going to need help, get in touch with them now.
- Citizens Advice Bureau (click on this link to find out your local branch)
If you have serious, complicated or urgent debt problems, then the CAB is probably your first port of call. They can help if you owe money to several organisations, you have been threatened with repossession, or you are about to go to court over unpaid debt. The CAB will arrange a time for you come to the office nearest you so that you can meet with an expert who can assess your situation and provide the best advice on what to do next.
As well as its permanent offices, the CAB also runs temporary clinics for smaller, more remote communities. It will even try to come to you if you have serious mobility problems.
In worst case scenarios, their help can cover ‘”an A&E service” as Moira Haynes of the CAB describes it. “We have a County Court Advice Desk that can help people who are about to go to court. This can have a significant impact upon the outcome of the hearing even at this late stage.”
Following the meeting, the CAB will, if you would like, negotiate on your behalf with your creditors (the banks and other organisations to which you owe money). So if you are dreading talking to all the people you owe money to, stop worrying – help is out there.
- StepChange Debt Charity (0800 138 1111)
The StepChange Debt Charity specialises in helping people with credit problems like unpaid credit cards, overdrafts, store cards and other debts that are not secured on your home. However, it has set up a special unit to deal with questions about repossession, so it will be able to help if you call.
The service is primarily telephone based. In the first, fairly brief, call you speak to a Duty Counsellor who takes your details and makes an appointment for the second call – the “full scale counselling,” as the spokesman puts it. They will need to know your debts, benefits, income and other financial information mentioned in Step One. The call can take up to an hour and equip you with the options that open to you and how to proceed.
If you wish to retain your anonymity, you can get the same service through the StepChange Debt Charity’s website.
- National Debt Line (0808 808 4000: freephone number)
Another telephone and web-based service, the National Debt Line has the broad remit of dealing with “debt problems”. It also has by far the easiest website to navigate. If you just want to test the water, download a Budget Planner, Information Pack or Debt Management Plan.
For more detailed information and counselling, you can call them. National Debt Helpline works in one initial call and is then available for any further queries. It will first establish all your circumstances and then go through the options that are open to you. It doesn’t contact your creditors or lenders (unlike the CAB) but it does give on-going support for self help.
- Bankruptcy Advisory Service Limited (01482 633034)
If you are in danger of becoming bankrupt, this organisation, run by mother and daughter Gill and Jo Hankey, gives clear, simple advice at an extremely low fee (just a £25 one-off payment).
They will help you avoid bankruptcy if that is possible. If not, they will guide you through the bankruptcy maze and will help you limit the damage it can do to you and your family. They will also advise you if you face repossession due to bankruptcy.
Companies that offer to buy your home now and then rent it back to you so that you can stay put sound like they are doing you a favour.
Actually they’re not. You do get to stay in your home for the short-term, but the price you get for your home will almost certainly be way below market value, and what’s more, your rent could be hiked up within a few months, leaving you no better off than when you were in mortgage arrears.
So our advice with sale and rent back companies is: don’t touch any of them.
Take a look at our article on sale and rent back for more on why these schemes should be avoided at all costs.
Equity release schemes are useful for a few people – assuming they are over the age of 55 – but they are unlikely to be suitable for many people facing repossession, because you need a substantial amount of equity in your home to make a loan company interested. If you have the equity, there will be better alternatives, including selling your property through an estate agent or possibly getting a secured loan.
For further advice, Age UK offers an easy to read fact sheet, “Raising income or capital from your home”, free of charge from their info line 0800 009966.
If the court orders a repossession, it will set a date by which you have to move out. If you don’t leave by that date, your lender can ask the bailiffs to evict you. Even at this stage, it may be possible to stop the eviction.
The bailiffs will come to your home and leave a form informing you of the date and time of the eviction. The amount of notice you get depends on your local bailiffs’ office, but you should have at least a few days. In such instances, bailiffs have a right of peaceful entry only. This means that they can’t use force to enter your home (i.e. they can’t break a window or a door). However, they can enter your property through an open door or window (front and back) and can climb over fences and gates.
You do not have to let a bailiff into your house. A bailiff cannot force their way past you if you answer the door. At no time are they allowed to use unreasonable force. However, they can physically remove you from your home if necessary.
The bailiffs have to act reasonably, and mustn’t be violent. Once they have got you out, the locks will normally be changed to make sure you can’t get back in. This will happen even if you are not in the property when the bailiffs turn up.
The bailiffs won’t remove any of your furniture or belongings, unless the court has decided they should do so. If you don’t take your belongings away they will be left locked inside. You will need to make arrangements to collect them later. You usually have to remove everything within about two weeks, but it can vary. If you can’t do so, and you don’t make other arrangements, your lender or freeholder will sell or get rid of them.
Although it seems like a desperate situation, do not despair, as there are things you can do. For more tips read our article about what to do when the bailiffs come around.
Don’t suffer alone. You don’t need to. Talk to friends and family if you can, but there is also counselling available for anyone who finds dealing with repossession too much to handle.
Also, share your problems with other people who have been, or are going through, the same things. For instance try the Consumer Action Group.
Don’t forget the Samaritans, who can be contacted online or on the phone any time of the day or night.
Remember, this is not the end of the world, and you will be able to pick yourself up again. There is a lot of free help available to you, and if you use it you will be able to get through this.
- Use Shelter’s Advice Services Directory to find a housing aid centre
- Citizens Advice Bureau or 0800 138 1111 (freephone number)
- StepChange Debt Charity or 0800 138 1111 (freephone number)
- National Debt Line or 0808 808 4000 (freephone number)
- Bankruptcy Advice Service Limited
- Advice UK
- The UK Insolvency Helpline
- Counselling profile page for Citizen’s Advice Bureau