Repossession proceedings can be issued within three months of your mortgage being in arrears. This can be a difficult and even frightening situation to be in if you have experienced economic abuse.
If you have separated from an abuser that you shared a mortgage with, legal proceedings to make them pay their share or decide on what to do with the house can take a long time. It can even take years if the perpetrator is effective in delaying them, and the house may have been repossessed by this time.
This resource outlines ways to help you avoid repossession if you want to keep the property or stay on the property ladder.
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If you need to leave your home quickly because of the abuse you are facing, support is available to help you reach safety.
If you are in immediate danger, call the police
Economic abuse often occurs alongside other forms of abuse. It is commonly part of a pattern of behaviour through which abusers seek to control their victims. If you are in immediate danger, call the police on 999.
The police may be able to issue a Domestic Violence Protection Notice (DVPN) which provides short-term protection from the abuser by excluding them from the property.
The police can then apply to the court for a Domestic Violence Protection Order (DVPO), which can provide protection from the abuser for longer.
Call the National Domestic Violence Helpline
To find out how you might be able to access alternative accommodation, there are domestic abuse helplines that you can call, many of which offer a 24-hour service. They will be able to refer you to specialist services that can help you to reach safety, for example at a refuge, and access local support.
Contact your local domestic abuse service
You can search for your local service on the Women’s Aid website. Your local service can help you to think about what you want to do next, including finding safe accommodation.
Before you start, it is always a good idea to get legal advice. Mortgage laws are complex. You could be available for legal aid, although owning property can sometimes be a barrier. In addition, home ownership is only one factor determining legal aid eligibility.
The government recently removed the mortgage cap on legal aid eligibility, so owning property should not exclude you. In England and Wales, you can visit the FLOWS website to find a local law firm with a legal aid contract. In Scotland, the Scottish Legal Aid Board or Scottish Women’s Right Centre can help. In Northern Ireland, visit the Women’s Aid NI website.
For more information on where to get free legal advice about repossession, visit this guide from Shelter.
In order to help prevent repossession, it is important to keep:
A lender should welcome your continued engagement, as they want to find a way for you to continue to make payments. They earn money from mortgages, so your continued payments are a better outcome for them than repossessing your home. They cannot repossess the home unless all other attempts to resolve the issue have failed.
Try not to feel pressured. You can ask if the mortgage lender has a vulnerable customer team and, if you feel comfortable, you may wish to disclose the abuse you have experienced.
The UK Finance 2021 Financial Abuse Code sets out the ways in which financial service providers should respond to vulnerable customers. They should respond with empathy, invite you to speak privately, and will hopefully be more flexible in their approach to working out a repayment plan.
In addition, the lender must follow rules set out by the FCA before they can begin any court action against you. These include:
Even if they have already begun court action, you can still approach the lender to try to make an agreement.
Before considering repossession, the lender should discuss other options with you. These could be:
It is essential for the mortgage lender to keep records of all communication with you. You may wish to record these details for yourself, as well, and keep them in a safe place.
Mortgage advisors are generally free. If you are dealing with mortgage arrears, you may wish to speak with a debt specialist or financial advisor. A debt advisor can also help you look at your outgoings and develop a budget and payment plan.
If you have recently separated from the abuser, your financial situation may have changed dramatically. Some people who experience economic abuse also have little knowledge of how to manage their finances if the perpetrator kept all the financial information a secret. A debt advisor will walk you through these issues.
The Financial Support Line for Victims of Domestic Abuse is run in partnership between Surviving Economic Abuse (SEA) and Money Advice Plus. It offers specialist advice to people experiencing domestic abuse who are in financial difficulty.
To contact the Financial Support Line, call or text 0808 1968845 (Mon-Fri, 9am-1pm and 2pm-5pm). You can also email [email protected].
Advisors on the Line will always take your safety and well-being into account when giving advice.
See our list of organisations that can help for other sources of money and debt advice.
It is best to contact the lender as soon as you miss a mortgage payment, but there are many reasons why you may not have done so.
If you can, explain why you are in arrears. This can include if the perpetrator:
You can make contact with the lender at any point, even if court action has begun or if this is not the first mortgage payment you have missed. The sooner you contact them, the better.
Even if you cannot make your full monthly mortgage payment, it is better to pay what you can. These payments, however small, show that you are:
In some cases, selling the home might be an option if it could cover the costs of your mortgage and any arrears. If you want to stay on the property ladder, or have enough money to buy elsewhere, it is important to consider whether you are likely to have money left over from the sale.
If you have spoken with a debt advisor and with the lender, but still cannot afford a repayment plan, you could also consider an assisted voluntary sale (AVS).
AVS comes with some support from the lender, which could include:
Lenders usually have certain criteria you will need to meet before they consider AVS. For example, in some cases, the homeowners must agree to and cooperate with the sale. If the abuser does not cooperate with the sale, the lender may refuse to do AVS.
Voluntary repossession means you (and any other homeowner) leave the property and give the keys to the lender. It does not clear your mortgage arrears or outstanding payments, and still has a negative impact on your credit rating.
It is almost always a bad idea. If you accept voluntary repossession and have nowhere else to live, the local council may even decide that you are intentionally homeless.
If you choose voluntary repossession, you will still need to pay:
In some cases, you may still feel that it is the best option, particularly if the property has been destroyed or is in negative equity (where the mortgage is worth more than the home).
For example, if you have been trying to accept voluntary repossession but the perpetrator will not agree to it, time will pass and you may accrue even more arrears. This could lead to you being forced further into negative equity, leaving you with a much higher debt than if you’d been able to accept voluntary repossession initially.
Last updated March 2021
If you are experiencing economic abuse, you are not alone. We have more information that can support you to take steps towards safety and begin to regain control of your finances.
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