By Marcus Leach

The number of properties taken into possession by mortgage lenders in the third quarter of 2011 was 9,200, virtually unchanged from 9,100 in the second quarter, according to the latest survey data from the Council of Mortgage Lenders (CML).

The number of repossessions in the quarter equated to 0.08% of all mortgages. This has been the same for five of the last six quarters, with the exception of the fourth quarter of 2010, which experienced a typical seasonal dip, to 0.07%.

So far this year, a total of 27,500 properties have been taken into possession - 4% fewer than in the equivalent period last year. It now appears likely that the total number of repossessions in 2011 will be lower than the CML's forecast of 40,000.

There was a slight fall in the number of households in arrears with their mortgage across all categories. At the end of September, the total number of mortgages with arrears of 2.5% or more of the outstanding balance fell to 161,600 (1.44% of all loans), down 2% from 165,200 (1.47% of all loans) and 8% lower than the 175,100 cases (1.55% of all loans) at the end of September 2010.

Despite these improvements there is still a stock of cases with significant arrears: 27,300 loans have arrears of more than 10% of the outstanding balance. In addition, the squeeze on household budgets as a result of falling real incomes, cost of living rises and increasing unemployment will negatively affect households, and could lead to increased arrears in the coming quarters. Extended forbearance by lenders has clearly been successful to date in keeping the vast majority of households facing payment difficulty in their homes, but ongoing pressures remain and the economic backdrop represents a significant challenge to the recent improving trend in arrears.

"The fall in the number of mortgages in arrears, and the stable picture on repossessions, are testament not only to the beneficial effects of low interest rates, but also to effective arrears management, and good communication between lenders, borrowers and debt counselling organisations," CML director general Paul Smee said.

"Against the backdrop of widespread financial uncertainty sweeping both the UK and the wider European economies, it is impossible to be sanguine about the future influences that households may face. But lenders will do their utmost to help borrowers keep their homes, whatever pressures emerge. Anyone worried about their mortgage should seek early advice and talk to their lender: these figures firmly show that repossession does not have to be an inevitable consequence of mortgage arrears."

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