A STAGGERING 404 families face losing their homes or being evicted for falling behind with their mortgage and rent payments.
Figures released by Shelter, the nationwide homeless charity, highlights Hartlepool as a “hotspot” where people are more likely to be evicted.
Over the last 12 months, a total of 404 court papers were issued to homes in Hartlepool where mortgage commitments had not been met.
Shelter’s study highlights the financial hardship facing many families struggling to make ends meet, with rising costs of living couples with high mortgage repayments leaving them “stretched to bursting point”.
A Citizens’ Advice Bureau chief says she isn’t surprised by the figures - and fears the situation could get worse before it gets better.
Janet Noble, training supervisor for the Citizens’ Advice Bureau in Hartlepool’s Park Road, said: “We deal with this issue on a daily basis, and people get into this situation for a variety of reasons.
“We have had cases where people have split up, and the husband will pay the mortgage for the first few months but then he gets his own place, and has his own living costs to meet.
“People lose their jobs and can’t afford their repayments, others may think they can afford the repayments but then when they interest rates change, they struggle.
“This is an ongoing issue, and with talk of the interest rate rising again, we could get more people with the same problem.
“It could get worse before it gets better.”
Janet added: “People do get lots of chances to get back on track, the eviction process doesn’t just happen overnight.
“The courts can allow arrears to be spread over a certain period of time to be repaid, and we can offer advice on how to put those proposals forward.
“The problem is when the letters and the warning are ignored, and it gets to the point where it is too late.”
The research, based on data recorded by the Ministry of Justice, found that in the last year more than 10,300 homes in the North-East were at risk of eviction or repossession, the equivalent of 28 every day.
It also identified the latest hotspots across the region where people are most likely to face losing their home, with South Tyneside and Newcastle topping the list with Hartlepool, Middlesbrough and Darlington also faring badly.
Shelter carried out the survey after being inundated with requests for help from people at risk of losing their homes.
Since 2011, across the country the charity has seen the number of calls about mortgage arrears rose by nearly a fifth.
Campbell Robb, chief executive of Shelter, said: “Each one of these will have had their lives turned upside down by this experience, as they faced seeing their home, the foundation of their life, ripped away from underneath them.
“Tragically we are seeing more and more people coming to us for help, people who have been struggling to make ends meet and then just one change of circumstances has pushed them spiralling towards homelessness.
“We urgently need people’s support so we can help more people in the North East avoid the nightmare of losing their home.”
HOW DOES THE REPOSSESSION SYSTEM WORK?
Anyone who falls into arrears with their mortgage will initially be contacted by their lender to see if any arrangements can be made to catch up on payments.
If the account remains in arrears for a period of time without any payments being made, then the lender is likely to commence county court proceedings.
The court could make a suspended possession order if a suitable repayment plan which is acceptable to the lender is pit forward.
Homeowners at risk will then receive a letter notifying them there is a claim for possession of their property, and if the situation is still left unresolved then an eviction notice will follow.
This gives the homeowner a time and a date within a fortnight when bailiffs will attend the property to formally repossess it.
That notice will inform the residents that the property must be cleared of al personal possessions.
By this late stage of proceedings, usually only a payment of the full arrears stops the bailiffs taking possession.