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New rules against aggressive banking 'hurting consumers'

RULES to protect consumers from aggressive banks are backfiring and making it impossible to tackle mortgage arrears, it has been claimed.

Since the beginning of the year, banks must get express consent from a consumer before they can call to their home.

But internal emails from one lender show that this rule is making it harder for consumers to get help to deal with mortgage arrears.

The Central Bank strengthened its consumer protection code and the code of conduct on mortgage arrears.

Since January 1, banks must obtain "informed consent" before an employee calls to a consumer's home, according to the updated code.

The rationale behind this is to stop consumers being hassled by lenders, and to avoid them being subjected to pressurised sales techniques.

The code says banks can only make three unsolicited contacts in a month with a homeowner who is in arrears. This includes emails, phone calls and letters.

One email from a debt collection banker says: "Really stupid rule. You wouldn't believe the amount of customers I have where I arranged a callout and then the customer gets in contact saying they had buried their head in the sand and they were glad to get the callout.

"Regulation to help consumers/mortgage customers is now actually working against the customer's best interests."

Mortgage expert Karl Deeter of Irish Mortgage Brokers said the rules were too strict and may end up making it more difficult for lenders to get people out of a financial hole.

"It is a good thing that rules have been brought in to restrict what banks can do when it comes to consumers. But it seems with this that the balance has tilted so much that it has become difficult for banks to collect debts," he said.

The Irish Banking Federation said it has been campaigning against the new restrictions on home visits by bankers.

The rules were brought in to stop pressurised selling being focused by banks and insurers on consumers, but the upshot was that those in mortgage arrears were losing out.

Felix O'Regan of the IBF said: "However well intentioned, the rule is not enabling lenders to help customers."

Around 150,000 residential homeowners are in some form of arrears, or one in five borrowers.

This is made up of 63,000 homeowners who are three months or more behind on their payments.

Another 70,000 people have been forced to do deals with their lenders to lower monthly repayments.

The rest are less than three months in arrears.

A spokesman for the Central Bank said banks were consulted on the new rules.

"The Consumer Protection Code 2012 is designed to protect consumers, including from harassment by lenders," the Central Bank said.

"There were two public consultations on the revised code and the final version requires regulated entities to ensure that the level of contact and communications with personal customers in arrears is proportionate and not excessive and sets out a specific requirement in this regard."

Irish Independent