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Mortgage Lender Criticised by Judges for Ignoring Borrower’s Disability

When assessing the ability of borrowers to repay loans, lenders are required to take account of their personal characteristics, including any disabilities from which they suffer. The Court of Appeal underlined the point in criticising a mortgage company for whom equalities legislation might well not have existed.

The case concerned a woman who, after suffering a bereavement, had endured severe depression that amounted to a disability. She had remortgaged her home for £96,000 in order to raise money for improvements to the property and to pay off existing loans. She swiftly fell into arrears and the lender launched possession proceedings. It rejected her proposal that the repayment mortgage should be converted into a more affordable interest only mortgage.

In ruling on the lender’s claim, a judge found that it had at no point considered the woman’s disability and that its ex post facto explanations for her treatment amounted to poor conduct. In granting a possession order, however, she rejected arguments that the proceedings amounted to disability discrimination.

In dismissing the woman’s appeal against that ruling, the Court found that it had not been either impossible, or unreasonably difficult, for her to obtain access to the repayment mortgage when compared to the access offered to other members of the public. The mortgage that she obtained was on offer to non-disabled people and the lender’s policy of not permitting conversion of repayment mortgages into interest only mortgages was applied to all borrowers.

The woman’s debt had been increasing inexorably, month on month, and there had, in the circumstances, been nothing unreasonable in the lender’s refusal to waive its no conversions policy in her case. A repayment mortgage was, in any event, a fundamentally different animal to an interest only mortgage in that the latter would have offered significantly reduced security to the lender.

In putting down a marker for the future, however, the Court expressed concern that the woman’s overall debt had risen to the staggering sum of about £300,000, two-thirds of which represented costs and expenses. The lender had presented a disingenuous defence to the claim and its practices, policies and procedures, insofar as they existed, had been opaque from start to finish, making no provision for consideration of equalities legislation. In the circumstances, the Court urged that there should be an inquiry as to whether all the costs and expenses claimed by the lender had been reasonably incurred.

Green v Southern Pacific Mortgage Limited. Case Number: B5/2016/2926

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