SO, are we finally getting to grips with the mortgage crisis? Maybe, but at a big cost to borrowers, who the figures show are opting for a lifetime of debt and higher charges to stay in their homes.
The latest data from the Department of Finance shows that arrears are still at desperate levels – almost one in five customers at the main banks is behind on their home loan – but the data at least suggests banks and borrowers are finally starting to chip away at the problem.
It is no small thing, and follows five years when the crisis drifted further and further out of control. But in many cases where long-term loan solutions are being hammered out, it is coming at a financial cost to the borrower.
More than a third of permanent mortgage fixes involve a so-called term extension. It means paying back the home loan over a longer period, so the total interest burden ultimately goes up. The borrower gets to stay in their house, and ultimately own it, but the bank wins on the double. The bank's income from interest payments increases, and it avoids the very real costs associated with repossession.
The data does not yet include any information on the numbers of repossessions or of people 'volunteering' to hand over their house to the banks to sell, so it is partial at best, in both senses of that word.
As well as term extensions, the other option borrowers are agreeing to is an interest-only deal. Again it is arguably also as good a deal for lenders as for borrowers.
Homeowners who sign up for long-term interest-only deals get the benefit of lower monthly repayments, but face the prospect of having to pay off their full mortgage at the end of the term – probably by selling their house just as they approach retirement age when they might finally have been able to enjoy it.
Of course, enjoying a retirement – or even having one – may no longer be an option for some people, those whose loan is extended so far into the future that they will be in their 70s by the time it is paid off.
Policymakers see no problem with that, though they emphasise that it must only be done on a case-by-case basis.
But with pension pots for private-sector workers now dwindling, and with the inevitable health consequences associated with aging, there must be some fear that the heavy emphasis on "amend and extend" deals is kicking the debt crisis into the future and on to a cohort of older borrowers at a time when they are least able to deal with such issues, rather than sorting it out once and for all.
On a positive note, the data finally includes some information about the silent mortgage crisis – by confirming that tens of thousands of homeowners are under real pressure, even if they have not drifted behind on their debt repayments.
The scale of that issue is now clear because the departmental statistics show that in some cases those struggling borrowers are seeking – and getting – a deal to make their debt burden easier over the long-term, before they have ever fallen behind on their home loans.