A total of 46,750 properties in the UK were repossessed during 2008 - an increase of 68% on 2007 figures, according to the financial services authority (FSA).

However, it said banks are taking measures to avoid ejecting homeowners from their properties where possible meaning that many of the repossessed properties will be buy-to-let, abandoned or will have been used for property fraud.

The number of properties being taken into possession during Q4 2008 was slightly lower than it had been over the previous quarter, but this was still 60% up on Q4 2007.

The regulator’s results also showed a rise in the number of borrowers falling into arrears, up 31% from 2007 to 377,000 at the end of 2008.

Research company Datamonitor in a report today called 'UK Buy-to-let Mortgages 200' said a greater percentage of buy-to-let properties had been taken into possession at the end of the first half last year than properties in the mainstream mortgage market.

Roderick Logan, who wrote the report, said: 'This trend is set to continue, as there is less reluctance on the part of lenders to repossess properties if the owner lives elsewhere and owns a whole portfolio of properties. Other factors have also contributed to an increase in repossessions such as relaxed lending policies which enabled property fraud and property owners abandoning their properties.

'As a result, the increase in repossessions is not as bad as the headline figure suggests and can serve to expose activities such as illegal property fraud.'