THE average value of debts pursued by credit unions in the courts last year was €100,000, according to new figures.
This is despite the fact that the co-operative lenders are supposed to be engaged in giving out small loans of less than €8,000 to ordinary people.
But the average court judgment awarded to credit unions last year was €99,644, figures seen by the Irish Independent show.
There were 769 judgments with a total value of €13m.
The largest judgment was €675,044, which was registered by Waterford Credit Union, according to 'Stubbs Gazette'.
A small number of large loans are understood to have been issued by some credit unions for commercial property deals, something which is at odds with the aims of the co-operatively-owned credit union movement.
These loans are now often in default, forcing the credit unions to go to court to try and recover the money.
Managing director of 'Stubbs Gazette' James Treacy said the new data called into question the ethos of the movement, which is supposed to about giving out small loans.
"It might be assumed that individual credit union debts are relatively small. In fact, this is not the case in many instances," he added.
Finglas Credit Union in Dublin had the most judgments, with 54 last year. This was up from 44 in 2011.
The good news for credit unions is that borrowers make a bigger effort to repay their debts than those taken out from banks.
However, Mr Treacy warned the State's 400 credit unions that they will need to step up efforts to get defaulting borrowers on to repayment plans.
This is because the new personal insolvency regime, which is due to be in place later in the year, will mean struggling borrowers may be able to get debts owed to credit unions written off.
A spokesman for the Irish League of Credit Unions, a representative body for most credit unions, admitted some members got involved in high-value lending during the housing boom.
Despite this, the average loan was still just under €8,000.
"Credit unions are engaged primarily in lending relatively small amounts overall, but a relatively small number of larger loans were issued a number of years ago, and these are the loans that are bringing the average up, as noted in Stubbs," the league spokesman said.
He added that many loans that are in arrears are being dealt with outside the courts system, through ongoing communication between the credit union with its members.