The number of consumers with their mortgage in arrears has reached the lowest level since records began in 1994, UK Finance figures shows.
There were 8% fewer mortgage arrears in Q1 2018 compared to the same quarter in 2017.
In all there were 78,800 homeowner mortgages in arrears of 2.5% or more of the outstanding balance in the first quarter of 2018.
Within the total, there were 24,100 homeowner mortgages with more significant arrears (representing 10% or more of the outstanding balance). This was 3% fewer than in the same quarter of the previous year.
Mark Pilling, managing director of Spicerhaart Corporate Sales, said: “It is encouraging to see the number of mortgages in arrears is at a record low and possessions are continuing the downward trend that we have seen since the financial crisis hit a decade ago.
“This is most likely because lenders are now making much more of a concerted effort to help those who are struggling to pay their mortgages get back on track – rather than moving to the repossession route – combined with a prolonged period of low-interest rates which has kept mortgages more affordable.
“However, we could now see things start to shift. Many of those who took out interest-only mortgages are coming to the end of their terms with no way of paying off the capital.”
Pilling added: “And with house prices falling in many regions, they will find they have less equity in their homes than they had hoped. This could cause problems as they try to sell or remortgage to pay off the debt.
“There is also the Support for Mortgage Interest (SMI) issue. Last month, the SMI benefit stopped and was replaced by a loan. Around 124,000 homeowners were part of that scheme, and only a small number have signed a new loan agreement, so will have lost their payments.
“This could mean that thousands of homeowners may struggle to make their mortgage repayments in the coming months, with many even going into arrears.
“With this in mind, combined with the threat of a base rate rise and the fact wage growth remains stagnant, lenders need to be keeping a close eye on their clients’ ability to keep up their repayments and engage with third parties to look after every borrower’s best interests.”
There were 4,500 buy-to-let mortgages in arrears of 2.5% or more of the outstanding balance in the first quarter of 2018, 6% fewer than in the same quarter of the previous year.
Within the total, there were 1,100 buy-to-let mortgages with more significant arrears (representing 10% or more of the outstanding balance).
Jackie Bennett, director of mortgages at UK Finance, said mortgage arrears being at its lowest level has been helped by low interest rates and lenders supporting borrowers through periods of temporary financial difficulty.
She added: “However, the recent change to Support for Mortgage Interest (SMI) from a benefit to a loan, as well as potential pressure on households from a future base rate rise, risk causing a reversal of this trend as the year goes on.
“Only a small minority of those eligible for the SMI loan have taken it up so far. Lenders will proactively help borrowers in receipt of Support for Mortgage Interest (SMI) to see if there are other ways to make up their payments if they do not want to take out the loan.
“As ever, customers should not hesitate to contact their lender if they anticipate any payment problems and want to discuss what options are available. Repossession is always a last resort.”
1,200 homeowner mortgaged properties were taken into possession in the first quarter of 2018, unchanged from the same quarter of the previous year.
Jonathan Harris, director of mortgage broker Anderson Harris, said: “Mortgage arrears are at a record low, which is encouraging.
“Yet there is no room for complacency. Possessions may be declining but that can change and borrowers need to be prepared. We suspect that when it comes to their finances there are many people who don’t have a buffer to tide them over should they get into difficulty.
“Borrowers must plan ahead and consider how they will cope if interest rates rise. Fixed-rate mortgages are still great value and remain competitively priced.”