Thursday 14 December 2017

Q&A on the collapse of Berehaven Credit Union

The offices of Berehaven Credit Union, Main Street, Castletownbere, West Cork.
The offices of Berehaven Credit Union, Main Street, Castletownbere, West Cork.

THE collapse of Berehaven Credit Union in Co Cork has left members of other local lenders worried about their savings.

Q: I am not a member of Berehaven Credit Union, but is my money safe in my credit union?

A: All savings are guaranteed up to €100,000 per person in credit unions, as is the case for bank accounts.

The Central Bank has stressed that the closure of Berehaven will not lead to other closures. Credit unions are owned by their members and heavily regulated by the registrar of credit unions, which is part of the Central Bank.

There is close to €12bn in member savings in the State's 386 credit unions.

It is true that up to 100 credit unions have been placed on a "watch list" by regulators amid mounting concern about loans not being repaid.

This indicates that more than one in four credit unions is struggling as members are unable to make repayments on borrowings.

The names of the troubled credit unions have not been released.

But regulators insist that there were particular problems at Berehaven CU that are not a feature at the other 386 credit unions.

"The appointment of the provisional liquidator to Berehaven Credit Union does not have any impact on members' savings in any other credit union," said the Central Bank, which regulates the sector.

Q: Will there be more credit unions folding?

A: The Central Bank has been at pains to stress that Berehaven is a one-off. It listed a litany of problems at the Cork lender to support the move by the High Court to approve its liquidation.

It insisted it was not possible to transfer the activities of Berehaven into another lender as it would have proved to be poor value for taxpayers.

In the cases of Newbridge CU and Howth and Sutton CU, member accounts were transferred to other institutions.

Q: Will the members of Berehaven CU get their money back?

A: Those with savings will be refunded out of the State deposit guarantee scheme within 20 days. All sums up to €100,000 per member will be refunded.

No individual accounts were greater than €100,000 at Berehaven, the Central Bank said.

Q: What went wrong at Berehaven CU?

A:The move to seek to wind up the credit union was taken by the Central Bank over concerns about bad lending, a sharp fall in the value of the lender's assets, poor internal controls and governance issues.

The board of the credit union did not report loans to connected parties, including officers of the credit unions.

Some €3.5m in bad loans has had to be written off up to September 2012.

Members who were already in arrears were given new loans, despite this being against the rules.

Poor internal controls were identified.

These included using multiple names for individual member loans.

Q: But is the government not seeking to force the merger of credit unions?

A: That is true. A body called the Rebo, the Credit Union Restructuring Board, has been set up with €500m in funding to encourage credit unions to join forces to create strong unions.

This has seen the total number of credit unions fall from around 412 two years ago to 386 now.

All credit unions are owned and run individually.

Q: What happens to loans taken out with Berehaven Credit Union?

A: The money is still owed.

Insolvency practitioners Jim Hamilton and David O'Connor of BDO Ireland, who have been appointed as provisional liquidators, will seek to recoup all money owned.

Existing terms and conditions on loans will not change.

They will also sell all the assets of the credit union, including its offices.

Irish Independent

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