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Cabinet to sign off on mortgage arrears plan as banks snub deals


The Government is expected to hold a special Cabinet meeting today to sign off on a mortgage-arrears package.

In what amounts to a major U-turn, ministers are due to agree to a change that will see banks effectively losing their veto over insolvency deals.

The veto has proved hugely controversial since it emerged as a key part of the Personal Insolvency Act.

It means that banks can use their votes in a creditors' meeting to throw out personal insolvency proposals, which involve writing-off mortgage debts for stricken families.

This has meant the State's new Insolvency Service, which has been up and running for a year and five months, has had a very limited impact.

Banks are currently rejecting one-in-four deals that reach the stage of being processed through the new service.

The Government fears a massive spike in repossessions if it does not act. Close to 38,000 residential mortgage accounts have built up more than two years of arrears.

Now a comprehensive plan, being coordinated by Taoiseach Enda Kenny's department, is to be unveiled this week. It involves:

Granting courts the power to overrule baks that veto insolvency deals. Courts already have to examine each deal, but now they can be asked to review an insolvency deal and reverse it if a reasonable one has been put together by an insolvency practitioner but is then vetoed by banks.

This is similar to an examinership for companies where judges can overrule creditors.

An expanded mortgage-to-rent scheme for homeowners in Dublin and commuter counties.

A decision on lowering the bankruptcy term to one year will be examined by an Oireachtas committee.

Homeowners with multiple debts will have the option of going to a third-party body - British charity StepChange - to hammer out a deal with their banks. This will be a phone-based service.

Some of the "red tape" involved in getting an insolvency deal will be removed. This could see the Insolvency Service being given the power to issue protective certs - effectively a 70-day standstill arrangement stopping banks enforcing their right to collect a debt while a deal is being hammered out.

Courts will be able to over-rule the taxman if it vetoes insolvency deal, in line with the move to water down the banks' veto.

A massive information campaign will be launched to advertise the services of the Insolvency Service.

Part of this will see those facing repossession being told that they have the option to have their case adjourned and reviewed by a personal insolvency practitioner.

They may still lose the home, but a successful insolvency deal may mean any debts still owed on the property would be wiped out.

Despite the changes, thousands of people will still lose their homes, David Hall of the Irish Mortgage Holders Organisation said.

He said three out of 10 of those in long-term arrears had no money, even if banks vote through an insolvency deal.

Irish Independent