UK minister says losing home ‘best thing’ for some

LONDON: British Housing Minister John Healey came under fire on Feb 11 for saying it was the “best thing” for some hard-pressed families to have their homes seized by banks.

"In some cases, it is the best thing for the people who are struggling with those mortgages," Healey told BBC radio.

Opposition Conservative housing spokesman Grant Shapps said the comments showed Healey was "out of touch" and demanded he apologise to people who had had their homes seized by the banks during the deep recession that ended late last year.

"It can never be a best option, a best thing, to lose your home. There are 46,000 people who have had that experience just in the last 12 months alone and it's a tragedy for each and every one of them," he told the BBC.

The economy will be the main battleground in an election due by June, which the Conservatives are favourites to win.

The Labour government says it has given more help to struggling homeowners during the recession than the Conservatives would have done. The Conservatives question whether government measures have been much use and are focussed on bringing down a ballooning public sector deficit.

The Council of Mortgage Lenders (CML) said earlier that 46,000 homes were repossessed by lenders in 2009, well below the 75,000 the CML forecast a year ago but 15% higher than in 2008.

A severe recession has swelled unemployment lines and left thousands of people unable to pay off their mortgages.

However, record low interest rates and government assistance schemes have helped some homeowners hold on to their properties.

Healey stood by his remarks, saying the government tried to help homeowners avoid repossession wherever possible.

"But in some cases it is the only option and in some cases it is the best option to cut people's losses so they don't get deeper into debt," he said.

Campbell Robb, chief executive of housing charity Shelter, said any struggling homeowner must seek advice early.

"Tragically however, there are exceptional instances, often as a result of irresponsible lending in the first place, where repossession is the only viable option to avoid pushing people into higher levels of debt," he said. -- Reuters

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