BANKS and other lenders are using bully-boy tactics to scare homeowners behind on their mortgage repayments - by threatening to throw them out on the street.
The mortgage finance sector won 4000 writs of possession in the New South Wales Supreme Court last year, giving them the right to repossess properties of customers behind on loan repayments.
But after putting those homeowners through the stress and hell of believing they could become homeless, almost 2500 were able to save their houses from being lost at fire sales across Sydney.
The Salvation Army's financial counselling manager Tony Devlin said banks and institutions known as predatory lenders were taking court action too quickly when, in the majority of cases, the threats weren't necessary to get payments up to date.
"It certainly gets a person's attention and can cause great fear of what the consequence might be,'' he said.
"But we'd like to see a lot more compassion exercised when financial institutions are dealing with people in difficulty.
"To have the Sheriff on the doorstep is quite an intimidating and shaming experience for people.
"We're dealing with a lot of people on the brink of losing their homes and it's an extremely anxious and stressful time.
"Some people do even get to the point of having suicidal thoughts. Families break down because of these things.''
An analysis of 4000 writs of possession issued in 2007, obtained under Freedom of Information laws, revealed only 1580 of the writs were executed.
Residents in Sydney's north-west were among the most under siege, with Blacktown having 85 writs of possession issued, but only 50 acted on. In Kellyville there were 20 issued and seven executed, while in Castle Hill there were 21 issued and only two executed.
Australian Bankers Association chief executive David Bell said that while banks write 80 per cent of loans, they were only responsible for 30 per cent of writs of possession issued.
"There is unfortunately a category of lenders out there which are not banks, which are often called predatory lenders who will make loans banks wouldn't touch,'' he said.
The practice has led to proposed amendments to default notices under the Consumer Credit Code that would require rogue lenders to inform customers of their right to fight before lenders can seek a writ of possession in court.
Under the amendments, default notices would make it clear that homeowners have "hardship'' rights under the code, that they can postpone enforcement proceedings, and if a credit provider doesn't agree to a pay back arrangement the decision can be reviewed by a tribunal.
Community councilors and aid workers hope the amendments will result in families saving their homes long before getting dragged through the stressful court process.
"What we are seeing more of are marital breakdowns, domestic violence and a whole range of other crisis,'' The Hills Community Aid and Information Service executive officer Jennifer Tisdell said.