Proceed with caution when handing over title deeds, auctioneer advises farmers

Ann Fitzgerald

Ann Fitzgerald

When taking out a bank loan, a prominent Leinster auctioneer is advising farmers to only hand over the deeds to the portion of the property necessary to satisfy the lender’s requirements.

Joe Coogan from Castlecomer, Co. Kilkenny was speaking from the floor at a seminar in Portlaoise on Wednesday night, organised by the ICMSA, on the heated topic of farm loans being sold to vulture funds.

Mr Coogan said farmers would traditionally have seen the bank as the safest place to keep all their deeds but such has been the deterioration in the relationship between the two sides that this is no longer the case.

He admitted that he doesn’t understand how vulture funds work and said he expects that the majority of farmers would be in the same position.

“Someone could have a dairy farm worth €3m with a loan of €250,000. For whatever reason, maybe an illness or accident, they could miss a repayment. Can it actually happen that the vulture fund would take over this loan?” he asked, rhetorically.

“People are afraid to borrow money, they are nervous of loans being cancelled or sold on. I would love to see people’s mind being put at rest.”

However, he expressed some surprise and disappointment at the fact that there were just over 30 people in attendance at the meeting, pointing out that he, “would see as many at a land letting.”

Gary Digney of PKF-FPM Accountants who has experience of dealing with these funds, and attended the meeting, said where farmers are dealing with vulture funds, the Personal Insolvency Arrangement (PIA) is a solution that can save the family home and farm.

“The PIA is a formal agreement with creditors that can write off some unsecured debt and restructure any remaining secured debt, while keeping the individual in their home where possible. In certain circumstances, the courts can force a PIA on a vulture fund”, he said.

“We believe the power of the PIA to keep people in the family home can be extended to the family farm. Crucially, in cases where a farm is about to be repossessed or sold, the PIP can apply for a protective certificate to allow time for a proposal to be put forward,” Digney concluded.

It is estimated that over 28,000 acres of farmland in Ireland is now controlled by so-called vulture funds.

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