More homeowners facing threat of homelessness

Property owners are increasingly finding themselves homeless. Picture: Ian Georgeson
Property owners are increasingly finding themselves homeless. Picture: Ian Georgeson
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A GROWING number of homeowners in the Capital are finding themselves unexpectedly on the verge of homelessness, a charity has warned.

Couples or families who thought they were “sorted” with secure jobs and homes suddenly find themselves unable to meet the mortgage payments because of relationship breakdowns, health problems, redundancy or other adverse circumstances.

Homlessness prevention charity, the Cyrenians, said 13 per cent of the cases it handled in 2013-14 involved homeowners rather than people in rented accommodation, up from just three per cent five years earlier.

Cyrenians director Ewan Aitken said: “Homelessness affects a wide range of people. It can come in situations people don’t expect and it can happen very quickly. People’s position can change from doing fine to being under real pressure quite suddenly.

“They can be chugging along nicely and then something happens – ill-health, a lost job or family breakdown – and the consequences of these are bad enough, but when you add to that the challenge of losing your home, your ability to deal with the trauma is reduced and the spiral kicks in quickly.”
 He said the Cyrenians had dealt with 52 cases in 2013-14 and had succeeded in most cases in stopping people having their homes repossessed.

He said: “Sometimes banks will give people a mortgage holiday, so they can stop the payments temporarily, but once you get that it’s very difficult to start paying again. We try to find ways of reconstructing the debt for people.”

Mr Aitken said the recession had had a big impact because of increased redundancies and also people having taken out bigger mortgages than they could really afford.

He said: “Often those affected are people who thought they were sorted with a home and a job.”

People were often reluctant to admit their problems because there was a stigma associated with homelessness, he said. He added: “We have to say ‘It’s OK to seek help’ and we have urged financial advisers and lawyers to refer people to us.”

One man who sought help from the Cyrenians was Tam, 47, who found himself suddenly in difficulties after his marriage broke down. He was nearing the end of a doctorate at the time and could not meet the payments on what had been a joint mortgage on his city-centre flat.

“I buckled,” he says. “I wasn’t functioning. I was just sitting in my flat with a half-finished PhD, wondering when I was going to get thrown out. I had good friends who told me ‘You’re not going to end up on the streets’ – but that was the nightmare that paralysed me.”

He said he had been given good support by his GP. “But he wasn’t able to help me with keeping a roof over my head.”

He contacted the Cyrenians who helped him remortgage and he still has his flat.

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