independent

Sunday 20 April 2014

Number of homes surrendered doubles

Permanent TSB revealed more than 25,000 homeowners were at least three months behind their repayments in the first quarter

The number of Permanent TSB customers in mortgage arrears who have surrendered their homes has more than doubled in the last six months.

As the final leg of a political inquiry into how the country's main banks were dealing with the crisis drew to a close, PTSB chiefs claimed struggling homeowners unable to make repayments often had no option but to sell up.

Shane O'Sullivan, chief of the bank's asset management unit, revealed 2,000 customers had given up their homes by the start of September - up from 800 in the first quarter of the year.

"There are cases when no matter what way we look there isn't a solution," Mr O'Sullivan said.

"In these cases, we do arrive at a decision around the assisted voluntary sale.

"We have a legacy book of customers who for many years have been on a revolving moratorium.

"Some have not been able to pay for a great number of years and we have worked with those customers to provide forbearance over those years."

He told the Oireachtas Finance Committee that PTSB officials had surpassed a Central Bank target to offer one-fifth of distressed borrowers a sustainable solution.

Selling up is deemed by the bank to be a long-term solution.

PTSB chief executive Jeremy Masding insisted he worked in his customers' best interests, but said the bank must also keep its head above water.

Just over 25,000 of the bank's mortgage customers were in arrears of more than 90 days by the end of March.

As of that date, the bank said:

:: Around 6,650 of those - or 26% - had been offered some sort of solution to managing their debt;

:: 1,500 defaulters were offered a short-term solution, while 2,750 were offered a long-term solution, such as a split mortgage or interest only agreement;

:: Around 800 customers had entered into "closure" or "assisted voluntary sale" in which they were forced to work with the bank to try to sell the property;

:: Legal action was taken against 1,600. The bank defined legal action as the point after which a solicitor had been appointed to secure a court hearing for it to decide how to progress.

Those figures had increased by September, at which point 10,000 customers had been offered a short-term solution and 9,000 a long-term solution.

The number of customers offered a split mortgage rose from 1,000 at the end of March, to 3,500, while those offered an extension more than trebled from 400 to 1,300.

"Life is a contract," Mr Masding said.

"I'm happy to give customers hope.

"A split mortgage, which I have used before, is an absolutely valid tool in our tool kit."

The bank was forced to defend itself against accusations it had sent letters to customers informing them to sell their home, despite them having previously agreed to a payment plan.

Sinn Fein TD Pearse Doherty said he was aware of a case involving a woman who was 200 euro in arrears when the bank ordered her to enter its assisted voluntary sale option.

"We've never sent one of those letters to my knowledge - unless there's been an unintended error - without having had a conversation with the customer in advance," Mr O'Sullivan insisted.

He said the bank's primary goal was to return struggling borrowers to a position of "affordability and sustainability".

But sometimes, a customer was simply unable to reach that point, he said.

"We have given these customers six-month moratoriums or interest only opportunities, but we are at a point where we are making decisions for sustainable solutions," he said.

"Sometimes we can't place people in long-term options."

Meanwhile, Mr Masding said he had no intention of writing off mortgages for distressed borrowers.

Echoing claims from Bank of Ireland and Ulster Bank bosses on Wednesday when they ruled out a debt forgiveness policy, the PTSB chief said his bank had provisions in place to deal with the arrears crisis.

"I have no intention of writing stuff off, I go through a process with customers," he said.

The Oireachtas Finance Committee will continue to ramp up pressure on the banks to deal with the chronic mortgage arrears crisis - with a meeting with the governor of the Central Bank on September 25.

This follows revelations from Bank of Ireland and Ulster Bank that 37,000 of their mortgages are in arrears of more than 90 days.

Earlier in the week, AIB revealed permanent resolutions had been agreed in 4,440 of its accounts, while nearly 6,000 legal letters were issued to customers warning of potential repossession if no engagement took place.

Press Association

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