Sunday 22 October 2017

'Fear factor' driving no-shows at hearings

Claire McCormack

Only a fraction of homeowners were present at more than 700 family home repossessions cases that were heard in courts around the country last week.

And few of those who did turn up at separate hearings in Donegal, Laois, Wicklow, Kildare, Tipperary, Waterford and Wexford had legal representation, the Sunday Independent has learned.

Mortgage advice group New Beginnings, who had a representative at each of the hearings, said it is probable that "fear" is a likely reason why many failed to turn up at the court proceedings.

"We would say it is a mixture of fear of the unknown in the courtroom and a desire to ignore what is an impossibly challenging situation," Simon Downey, a spokesman for the advisory group told the Sunday Independent.

As for the lack of legal representation, Mr Downey said: "Again we cannot give a definitive answer, but one would imagine the costs involved in getting a lawyer are prohibitive to most in the circumstances."

However, it is still not too late for those that failed to turn up in court the first time around to engage with the authorities.

At first hearings, adjournments are usually granted for a period of three months, including no-shows.

But anyone who is in danger of having their home repossessed is strongly urged to get some form of legal advice before it is too late.

New Beginnings are providing an advisory legal service for €150 to people who face the prospect of losing their home, though the group said it will waive the fee in certain circumstances.

Last week, in cases where homeowners did seek help, their cases were adjourned and the agency is now working with them in order to prepare a path which, in many cases, should involve them remaining in their family homes.

"It is difficult to say what will happen into the future - but clearly, where borrowers are trying their best and where they are engaging with the lender, the local County Registrars are just not willing to make orders of repossession of family homes," Mr Downey added.

"We are aware of the huge stress and pressure on families having to return to court every three months not knowing until that day whether they are to lose their homes. This is having a very detrimental effect on the lives and on the health of so many people," said Mr Downey.

In order to stem the anxiety, the agency is running 'debt solution clinics' around the country, manned by qualified experts in the field of debt management.

Figures published by the Department of Finance last week revealed that as many as 70pc of homeowners who are three months or more in arrears have yet to reach a deal with their banks on repayments.

The Department of Finance this weekend confirmed to the Sunday Independent that it is considering a proposal from the Irish Mortgage Holders Organisation concerning risk of significant home repossessions, the non-functioning insolvency legislation and mortgage to rent/lease and alternatives.

"The IMHO proposal is currently being considered in the context of changes to the current mortgage arrears procedures. The department will not be commenting on the details of revised proposals ahead of a Government decision," a spokesman said.

Sunday Independent

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