Struggling families hit hard as 1,700 face losing their homes

MORE than 1,700 north London families are currently at risk of losing their home – but households in Camden borough seem more secure.

The new statistics, from homeless charity Shelter, show that hundreds more households faced losing their properties in the last three months of 2010 than in the previous quarter.

Haringey, Westminster and Barnet all saw substantial rises in the number of homes at risk of repossession.

But Camden experienced a fall in both the number of properties being repossessed and landlords issuing possession orders.

Camden’s housing boss, Cllr Julian Fulbrook, says the figures represent the different social make-up of the boroughs.

He said: “While Camden has lots of people with mortgages, they are fairly well insulated from the full rigours of the recession and most will not be in a financial situation where they are at risk of immediately losing their home.

“We also have a lot of poorer people who don’t take out mortgages and who don’t rent privately.

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“I’m just round the corner from where Benjamin Disraeli was born and his book is about two nations, which is true of Camden. Here in Camden, you are either very poor or very rich. It tends to be quite a divided borough. The very rich and the very poor are quite insulated from these statistics.”

Neighbouring Barnet saw a huge rise in mortgage and landlord possession claims in the last months of 2010. Overall, claims soared by more than 29 per cent from 410 to 530. A total of 410 of these were landlord possession orders – a rise of 33 per cent – and 110 were mortgage repossessions – a rise of 16 per cent.

Mr Fulbrook added: “I would imagine that there are many more people in Barnet who are in the middle section and are at risk of going into negative equity on their mortgage or being unable to pay their rents.”

Despite the sharp rise, Lawrence Henry, partner of specialist Barnet estate agent Statons, said they had yet to see an increase of repossessed properties on the market.

He said: “We have been quite surprised that we haven’t been dealing with more. When you read the press speculation, you are expecting people to be defaulting all over the place. But we are dealing with only two or three, which is not uncommon for us.

“Quite possibly the houses, which were under repossession orders at the end of last year, haven’t yet been put on the market. The time it takes to be repossessed, valued and put on the market is probably quite drawn out.”

In Haringey, the housing market is behaving differently again.

The borough has seen a sharp reduction in mortgage repossession orders – with only 50 being issued in the last three months of 2010. But in the same period, the number of renters whose home was at risk rose by almost 10 per cent in the same period.

Mike Tomes, manager of North London Action for the Homeless, which deals with homeless people across Haringey, sees this as a worrying trend.

“For those with mortgages, although it is a terrible situation, most of them will have families and so it is the law that the local authority has to scoop them up and make sure they have somewhere to live.

“Under the housing act, if you are classed as vulnerable then you cannot be left to fend for yourself on the streets.

“People with a mental disability, people with families or people who are pregnant, these are the sort of people who cannot be left to sleep in a park.

“But then if you are not classed as vulnerable in these terms, then you are stuffed.”

At the North London Action drop-in centre in Stoke Newington, Mr Tomes has noted that increasing numbers of Eastern European labourers who live in Haringey are so close to the breadline that they lose their homes as soon as they lose their jobs.

He added that renters losing their homes would add to an already under-recorded homeless problem in north London.

He said: “When the yearly counts are done, the counters are not allowed to go into parks, cemeteries or derelict buildings to check for homeless people – the only places you would really ever try to sleep rough. So those people are uncounted.”

Cllr Fulbrook urged families across the four boroughs not to give up in the face of repossession orders.

He said: “One of the reasons I am sure that Camden has lower rates is the amount of advice available both from the council and from local and regional citizens and law groups in central London boroughs.

“Sometimes it is possible to convince a building society that it is not in their interest in the long term to take the property the moment someone loses their job.

“If they get back into a job in six months or a year, it’s going to be better and cheaper for the building society to keep them in their home. This is the good advice that will given across Camden.”