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The number of buy-to-let mortgage holders in significant arrears has increased by 12 per cent since last year, according to new data from UK Finance.

The trade body’s mortgage arrears and possessions update, published today (May 9), showed there were 1,200 buy-to-let mortgage properties in serious arrears — 10 per cent or more of the outstanding balance — in the first three months of 2019.

This was 12 per cent greater than in the same period in 2018.

The total number of buy-to-let mortgaged properties in any arrears, 2.5 per cent or more of the balance, increased by 3 per cent to 4,620 in Q1 2019.

The residential market fared better as the new data showed the number of homeowners in arrears remained at a historic low.

There were 76,580 homeowners in low level arrears in the first three months of 2019, down 4 per cent on the same period last year, and the number of consumers in serious arrears decreased by 3 per cent.

Arrears led to 1,380 residential properties and 570 buy-to-let mortgaged properties being repossessed in the quarter.

For the buy-to-let market, this meant repossessions fell by 14 per cent while for residential mortgages, the number of houses repossessed increased by 10 per cent.

UK Finance stated the increase in possession in the residential market had been driven in part by a backlog of historic cases and stressed that the total remained well below the levels seen between 2009 and 2014.

Commenting on today’s findings, Jonathan Harris, director of mortgage broker Anderson Harris, said: “Encouragingly, there has been a further fall in the number of homeowners in mortgage arrears, with numbers at historically low levels.

“The vast majority of borrowers are paying their mortgage in full and on time each month, perhaps not surprising when one considers how low interest rates are.”

But Mr Harris stressed there was no room for complacency in terms of mortgage repayments and said borrowers should plan ahead and consider how they would cope if interest rates were to rise.

Jeremy Leaf, north London estate agent and a former RICS residential chairman, said: “Buy-to-let landlords are falling into arrears from the pressure of tax and regulatory changes, as we might have expected.

“These figures also show that there is little appetite among lenders to repossess because they are not going to do too much better than the owners themselves in achieving a sale at a reasonable price.”

According to Mark Pilling, managing director at Spicerhaart Corporate Sales, the increase in buy-to-let properties in arrears could be down to the fact that many private landlords were looking to get out of the sector as a result of regulatory change.

This rise, he said, could be down to the fact that some tenants who have been given notice are now not making their rent payments.

He added: “In terms of residential mortgages, arrears are down slightly but possessions are up by 10 per cent, a fairly significant increase. And while they are still not at the levels seen after the financial crisis, they are slowly creeping up.

“And I think we will now see these residential possession numbers continue to increase every quarter, ballooning at the end of the year as borrowers start to run out of options to get themselves out of difficulty. And while forbearance is still an option for some, lenders need to look at all the circumstances of each customer and get the right strategy in place.”

In January, the Intermediary Mortgage Lenders Association warned the introduction of various tax and regulatory changes since 2015 would begin to have an effect on property availability and tenant choice in the rental sector as landlords began to feel the pinch of new regulation.

Landlords have been subject to a number of regulatory changes in recent years, with the introduction of an additional 3 per cent stamp duty surcharge on second homes in April 2016, which was closely followed by cuts to mortgage interest tax relief.

Buy-to-let borrowers are also now subject to more stringent affordability testing under the Prudential Regulation Authority’s tightened underwriting rules.

By Imogen Tew

Source: FT Adviser

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