New Beginning battles banks over tide of repossessions
MORE than 2,500 people in trouble with their mortgages have so far sought help from an organisation providing free legal representation to those facing repossession of the family home.
New Beginning was set up in late 2010 by businessman David Hall and barristers Ross Maguire and Vincent Martin. It now has around 70 solicitors and barristers offering their services free of charge, as well as several economists and business people.
Mr Hall, who owns a private ambulance company, told the Sunday Independent that New Beginning was currently prioritising the cases of 210 people facing repossession.
However, the largest category of those who have contacted the organisation consists of people who are struggling with debt and seeking advice with a view to avoiding legal proceedings.
Describing the debt crisis as "like a pandemic", Mr Hall said those who had approached New Beginning were "from right across the country and from all social classes".
He continued: "The biggest age group is between 25 and 45. Around 65-70 per cent of those we deal with are in families, about 20 per cent are couples without children and the rest are single.
"According to the Central Bank, at the end of the last quarter (to December 2011), around 3,000 people were in the legal process for repossession and a further 9,500 had received the final letter of demand from the lender -- the last step before legal proceedings begin."
However, Mr Hall said that since New Beginning's arrival, repossessions had halved as "punters are no longer going to be thrown to the wolves -- they will have a professional legal team to represent them in court. The landscape has changed dramatically."
Asked how New Beginning deals with the banks, he said: "Our approach is to be open and transparent with them where the borrower has something to offer them financially.
"Ultimately, you cannot get blood from a stone. People cannot repay a loan of €2,000 a month when both of them are unemployed. The plan is to agree a letter of forbearance from the bank to postpone legal proceedings for repossession."
Mr Hall said that where homeowners dealt on their own with lenders "the banks are far more ruthless. They are there to recover money on a debt they gave and they do so with extreme vigour and power.
"We try to rebalance that imbalance of power by providing legal representation to give the borrower a chance of negotiation. They have no chance in the absence of professional legal representation.
"Not everybody is able to deal with banks and they don't have the confidence to face a problem of this size in a bank's headquarters, where they are being treated like a criminal in the interview room of a garda station."
Mr Hall said New Beginning was currently working on a business plan to develop a specialist insolvency service.
He added: "The free legal services will always be maintained and protected. The other aspects will be on a not-for-profit basis but there will be a charge based on the number of people who apply."