RBS slows repossessions

The Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) has bowed to political pressure and pledged not to start repossessions until borrowers are six months behind on their mortgages.

The lender – which also includes NatWest and covers seven per cent of UK mortgage market – moved after the government took a 58 per cent stake in the firm on Friday.

Liberal Democrat economics spokesman Vince Cable said: “This welcome news will be of great relief to struggling RBS customers.

“However, it will be a mere drop in the ocean unless it is followed by the whole industry.”

RBS has also agreed not to start repossession action until borrowers had sought debt advice.

The pledge to remain in place until at least the end of 2009

Craig Donaldson, managing director of RBS retail banking, said: “We fully understand that one of the biggest worries facing homeowners in financial difficulty is the thought of losing their home, this is especially true given the current economic climate.

“The repossession route is always a last resort and one where all other reasonable attempts to resolve the position have failed and one that we look to avoid where at all possible.”

The move is being seen as the government – which has promised to only run banks at arm’s length – taking a role in influencing the bank.

In the Pre-Budget Report last week, Alistair Darling announced mortgage lenders had agreed to not start moves to start repossession for three months.

The delay will be welcomed by borrowers, but there has been criticism that for many the move will only delay the inevitable.

2009 is expected to see a rise in the level of people falling into arrears and repossessions, although the government has announced its £200 million Mortgage Rescue scheme to aid 6,000 vulnerable households.

Last week the Financial Services Authority (FSA) wrote to lenders to giving them a deadline of the end of January to treat borrowers falling into trouble fairly.

Despite these moves to stop repossessions, next year is expected to see move forced sales of properties as the recession bites, and further falls in house prices are expected.

Delaying repossessions, in some quarters, has been criticised for delaying the fall in prices and so the recovery.