Six months on, where are mortgage arrears measures?
16 November 2015
On 13 May 2015, the government announced a suite of measures aimed at tackling the problem of mortgage arrears and increasing the supports available for distressed borrowers. Six months later and 7 years into the financial crisis, worried borrowers are still waiting for measures that were deemed so urgent and badly needed in May.
- Granting Circuit Court judges the power to overrule a lender’s unreasonable refusal to a personal insolvency arrangement, thus removing the lender’s veto in certain circumstances;
- An expansion of the Mortgage to Rent Scheme by increasing the property value thresholds that apply;
- Enhanced information and advice for borrowers.
FLAC’s analysis has identified:
- Circuit Court Judges: While some changes to Personal Insolvency legislation were rushed through the Oireachtas in early July, these only affect those in arrears or in arrangements on 1 January 2015 and even for those, the necessary court rules are not yet in place to allow for review by judges.
- Mortgage to Rent: There has been no visible change or improvement to the scheme which would allow people to move from being borrowers in arrears to becoming tenants in social housing – something which is essential for some with entirely unsustainable mortgages. Launched over three years ago, it was reported that by August 2015 only 110 cases had been completed.
- Advice and Information: While the Insolvency Service of Ireland and MABS have increased the level of information available to borrowers in distress, there is still no legal advice and representation scheme available to people seeking to negotiate mortgage debt solutions or for those facing repossession.
According to FLAC director general, Noeline Blackwell : “FLAC’s review of progress in getting solutions that will keep people in their homes is that the government knew last May what they needed to do, but there has been bewilderingly little progress in putting these measures in place.”
She said that the organisation’s assessment over the last number of years is that there must be an independent, fair system of identifying what is a mortgage solution and that people should get the financial, legal and money advice that they need to deal with lenders and the courts. Alternative accommodation must be available for those whose mortgages are unsustainable.
Figures from the Central Bank for June 2015 show that almost 38,000 mortgage accounts have arrears of 2 years or more, with the average level of arrears in excess of €50,000. A further 17,500 have arrears of over a year. According to the Courts Service, 1,088 repossession orders were granted for homes around the country with at least 758 of those in ‘primary homes’.
Calling on the government to deal urgently with what FLAC says is delayed implementation of government promises, Ms Blackwell said: “The government statement of May 13 2015 shows that it knows that focused and sustained action is needed immediately to put proper systems in place for people in debt so that their mortgage arrears do not lead to homelessness. The problem is implementation. For many of these overindebted borrowers as well as for tenants who live in buy-to-let properties in arrears, the last 6 months since promises were made have seen almost no improvement in systems which would allow them to take control of their debt and to gain security in their homes”.
- FLAC (Free Legal Advice Centres) is a human rights organisation which exists to promote equal access to justice for all. FLAC is an NGO that relies on a combination of statutory funding, contributions from the legal professions and donations from individuals and grant-making foundations to support its work.
- FLAC offers basic legal information through its telephone information line (1890 350 250) and free legal advice through its network of 80 volunteer evening advice centres – more at www.flac.ie/help/. It also campaigns on a range of issues including consumer credit, personal debt, fairness in social welfare law, public interest law and civil legal aid. FLAC has issued numerous analyses and policy statements calling for a fairer mortgage arrears resolution process.
- You can read the government’s press release from 13 May 2015 on the proposed measures at http://bit.ly/1e1smFw.
- Central Bank figures for Q2, 2015 are available at: http://www.centralbank.ie/polstats/stats/mortgagearrears/Documents/2015q2_ie_mortgage_arrears_statistics.pdf
- Courts Service statistics on repossession orders – Jan – Sept 2015 are available at: http://courts.ie/courts.ie/library3.nsf/66d7c83325e8568b80256ffe00466ca0/ef5a2c0da1413490802579f4004f7541?OpenDocument
- You can download FLAC’s analysis of progress on the resolution of mortgage arrears, issued in January 2015 at http://www.flac.ie/publications/paper-owner-occupier-mortgage-arrearsprogress-on/ and its call to Government in March 2015 at http://www.flac.ie/news/2015/03/09/three-point-plan-needed-from-government-to-address/