I was pleased to hear the announcement this week that the Government is to extend the availability of free legal representation at county courts for people who are at risk of having their houses repossessed. I used to work for a small firm of solicitors, who acted as agents in the county courts for the building societies seeking possession orders. This was during the recession of the late 1980s, when repossessions rocketed.
I was based in Luton at the time, which was the negative equity capital of the UK. This was partly because of the large number of starter homes in the town, commissioned by the Tories when they ran the Council, to attract first-time buyers from out of town who wanted somewhere within an easy commute to London and who were more likely to vote Conservative than Luton's traditional car workers. Banks and building societies were offering 100% mortgages, with additional 'cash back' offers. As interest rates rose, and the recession started hitting jobs in the service sector, the new homeowners founded themselves financially over-extended and unable to meet their mortgage payments.
It was my job to handle the court hearings, sometimes at the rate of 10 a day. The homeowners didn't always turn up, but when they did I'd explain to them that although the building society was seeking possession in 30 days, and I would therefore have to go in and ask for that, the court would suspend the order if they made an offer to clear the arrears over a period of time. Very few of the cases ended in actual warrants for possession; the county court registrars understood that people were facing a tough time and I suspect thought the building societies were more than a little to blame for having made the loans in the first place.
The situation now is nowhere near as bad as it was in the late 1980s/ early 1990s, but it's good that the Government is taking early steps to help people keep a roof over their heads.