The number of people who lost their homes soared to a 14-year high in 2009, new figures show.
Around 46,000 people in the UK had their property repossessed during the year, the highest level since 1995 and 15% more than in 2008, according to the Council of Mortgage Lenders (CML).
But the figure was well down on the group's original forecast that 75,000 people would lose their homes during the year, although this was revised down to 48,000 when the predicted flood of repossessions failed to materialise.
A further 188,300 homeowners were also in arrears of at least 2.5% of their outstanding mortgage debt at the end of last year, although this was 3% lower than during the third quarter.
A combination of low interest rates, increased lender forbearance and the introduction of Government schemes to help people has helped keep repossession figures lower than forecast.
But the CML warned that the economy was not “out of the woods” yet, and said 2010 was likely to be a challenging year for many homeowners.
It has previously predicted that 53,000 homes will be repossessed this year, with a further 205,000 people ending 2010 in arrears.
But it said yesterday that these forecasts may be “a little pessimistic”, due to unemployment not rising by as much as had been expected, and low interest rates.
Figures for the final quarter of last year showed a slowdown in repossessions to 10,200, 13% lower than the previous three months.
CML director general Michael Coogan said: “We are not out of the woods yet — 2010 will still be a challenging year for many borrowers.”
The Ministry of Justice also released figures showing a 35% drop in the number of repossession claims lodged with courts in England and Wales during 2009, the lowest level since 2004.
The claims led to 72,174 repossession orders being made during the year — also 35% down on the previous 12 months.