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Banks ramp up pressure on families in arrears


Picture posed. Thinkstock

Picture posed. Thinkstock

Picture posed. Thinkstock

DISTRESSED homeowners are coming under unprecedented pressure to cave in to repossessions following "massive escalation" of litigation by banks against struggling borrowers.

In the past four months, lenders have been demanding full or partial payment of arrears to "halt the legal process" and lift the threat of repossessions, documents obtained by the Sunday Independent reveal.

In one case, a borrower struggling to maintain mortgage repayments was told by the bank to pay half the arrears of around €6,000 up front "in order to halt the legal process".

In another case, a customer who had failed to make repayments on a €200,000 mortgage was given a two-week deadline to clear the mortgage, or face the full legal consequences.

The lender, EBS, also imposed an additional charge of €28.99 for every day the loan wasn't paid in full.

The bank said it would take whatever steps were needed to recover the debt and "will hold you responsible for all costs, fees, charges and expenses incurred" and "enforce its rights" to security, including appointing a receiver, which effectively means repossession.

In a third case, EBS told the customer it would start "proceedings for possession of the property" if the €205,000 mortgage was not repaid in full "within 14 days".

The lender also charged the customer an extra €131 a month in arrears interest as long as it wasn't paid.

Lobby groups for borrowers have criticised the lenders' demands as "unreasonable", saying it signals a new hard-line approach towards mortgage-holders now that "the pitch has been cleared" of obstacles to pursuing them.

In the past few months, the 12-month moratorium on lenders repossessing family homes has been reduced to three, and new legislation passed that makes it easier for banks to pursue struggling borrowers, allowing them to telephone them more often and to call to their homes.

David Hall, of the Irish Mortgage Holders Organisation, said struggling borrowers are "now seeing the effects of that change".

Central Bank figures last month showed that banks started repossession proceedings against 1,800 mortgage-holders in July, August and September.

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Mr Hall is now predicting a "tsunami" of repossessions this year, as banks try to clear unsustainable home loans from their books.

"The key difference in 2014 is that banks will be following through on their legal threats to repossess homes," he said.

"In the past few months, the rules have changed to facilitate the faster acceleration of repossessions ... there has been a massive escalation of the legal process."

While the number of repossessions remains low, the figures are increasing. Central Bank figures published last month showed that in July, August and September, banks repossessed 209 family homes, 76 of them forcibly through court order.

The remaining 133 were surrendered or abandoned.

Some 57,000 homeowners are in arrears for more than a year on their mortgages.

EBS and AIB denied that the bank had issued letters seeking arrears to be paid off in order for the legal process to be stopped, a spokesperson said.

"Legal proceedings are best avoided through meaningful engagement between the customer and the Bank and are regarded as a last resort," a spokesperson said.

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