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Saturday 20 September 2014

'You still owe us €17,000' – bank letter to suicide widow

Bereaved fiancee of Priory Hall property owner says KBC letter was like 'a kick in stomach'

Published 08/09/2013 | 05:00

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A BANK last week sent a letter to the bereaved fiancee of tragic Priory Hall resident Fiachra Daly telling her that she still owed them almost €17,000.

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Stephanie Meehan received the letter from KBC bank just days after news of his suicide sparked a national outcry.

The bank wrote that interest on the mortgage would continue to accrue until it had been redeemed in full.

In an exclusive interview with the Sunday Independent, Ms Meehan said receiving these letters were like getting "a kick in the stomach".

She received separate letters from the bank, one demanding a mortgage repayment while another highlighted the couple's €19,200 arrears plus interest on the mortgage for their worthless apartment in Priory Hall.

Because of these arrears, Ms Meehan still owed €16,803.78 even after Fiachra's life insurance had paid the balance.

The mother of two said she believed previous letters from the bank about their mounting arrears eventually "got" to Fiachra, who died on July 14. The couple had planned to marry next year.

Former Priory Hall resident Stephanie Meehan whose partner Fiachra Daly (inset) committed suicide.

Ms Meehan said she felt "sick" at receiving another round of letters from KBC within four weeks of his passing. This was despite the fact that the couple's mortgage adviser, Michael Dowling, had informed KBC of Fiachra's suicide on August 12 – by telephone and in writing.

A letter, addressed to both Stephanie and Fiachra, was sent to their home address on August 14, highlighting their mounting mortgage arrears of €19,281.48 and warning of the consequences of not making payments.

In a statement issued to the Sunday Independent yesterday in response to a number of queries, KBC said this weekend the letter was "regrettable" and claimed it was automatically generated and sent to all mortgage arrears customers.

But on August 28, KBC dispatched another letter addressed to both Stephanie and Fiachra, despite being notified of his death. This time the letters were posted to their mortgage adviser.

This contained a statement of the couple's mortgage account, noting the arrears and requesting a separate monthly mortgage payment for September of €1,570.66.

In relation to Fiachra's life policy, the letter said that it covered a sum of €295,300.68 but it pointed out that Stephanie would still owe the outstanding balance of €16,803 and would continue to pay interest.

"Interest will continue to accrue on the outstanding balance until the account has been redeemed in full," it said.

Ms Meehan said she received KBC's letters on Tuesday last, in the midst of the enormous publicity generated by the open letter she sent to Taoiseach Enda Kenny about her partner's death.

"I have to say I felt like somebody had kicked me in the stomach. I couldn't believe it... I couldn't believe that they could be so unsympathetic... They know full well my circumstances, and also it wasn't necessary to send it at this time. Also to be threatening me with the added interest," she said.

"Where am I going to get that amount of money?"

After the surge of publicity Ms Meehan generated for the plight of Priory Hall residents, a senior manager at KBC contacted her mortgage adviser last week to invite her to a meeting on Tuesday.

"It appears that they were concerned to know whether the letter had reached me," she said. "They have just rolled out this new current account and they are trying to promote this so I doubt they want the negative publicity."

KBC's letters were condemned as "repulsive" and "despicable" last night by the Irish Mortgage Holders Organisation.

"They [KBC] were aware of Fiachra's death and, despite this, sent such an inhumane letter to both Stephanie and Fiachra. We are repeatedly told to engage and trust your bank. This shows the completely repulsive way they treat customers in such circumstances. How did any manager allow such a letter to issue given Fiachra's death and the massive publicity around Priory Hall?" it asked.

"KBC will likely be repaid in full for what is now a valueless property by Fiachra's insurance company. Yet the bank still wrote to Stephanie for an additional €19,000 they are charging her for arrears and interest."

In a statement, KBC offered its first public acknowledgement of the suffering endured by Stephanie Meehan.

"The defects and upheaval at the Priory Hall development have resulted in hardship, stress and devastation for many families and individuals. Any loss of life is a huge tragedy and we extend our sincere condolences to Stephanie Meehan and her family. We are working with all mortgage holders in a fair and consistent manner, including those affected by the Priory Hall situation, to find solutions. From the outset and throughout the Priory Hall situation we have made a freeze on loan repayments available to owner-occupier customers. For customers who don't avail of the freeze on loan repayments, the bank is obliged to issue correspondence in accordance with the Code of Conduct on Mortgage Arrears.

"The standard automated reminder letter (processed on 12th August and sent on 14th August) to all mortgage arrears customers was regrettably also issued in this case."

In an emotional appearance on The Late Late Show on Friday night, Ms Meehan also criticised the Taoiseach for failing to help the residents. However, Mr Kenny refused to comment directly on the case last night. When asked for Mr Kenny's reaction to Ms Meehan's appearance, a spokesman said: "The Taoiseach outlined [last Wednesday] the Government's determination to arrive at a resolution."

Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore expressed his condolences to Ms Sheehan after she sent him a copy of her letter to the Taoiseach.

He wrote: "The death of Fiachra is deeply tragic and you have my very deepest sympathy in your loss. Unfortunately Priory Hall is a legacy of the boom and the inadequate regulations and oversight that pertained at that time. It now falls to Minister Phil Hogan to deal with the issue and the consequences for all those who bought homes in the complex."

By Maeve Sheehan

Sunday Independent

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