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Few families evicted even after homes repossessed

One of the biggest banks involved in the residential mortgage market has not evicted a single family from their home.

AIB would not comment on the number of houses it has repossessed, but it is understood it only moves when the property is vacant or has been surrendered, and does not enforce eviction orders when a family remains living in a house.

The Central Bank said that despite hundreds of legal actions in the courts, mass unemployment and other bad debt indicators, the total number of properties in possession of all the banks is just over 500.

The low figures come during a surge in defaults by homeowners, rising interest rates and a fresh wave of legal actions that may hit the courts if many of the 13,000 households which have been in arrears for a year or more do not qualify for further relief under a new Central Bank code.

There are currently some 300,000 borrowers in negative equity, while 45,000 residential mortgages -- typically interest-only arrangements -- have been rescheduled, and at least 40,000 mortgages are in arrears for three months or more.

Four lenders have increased their mortgage interest rates already this year, with building society EBS becoming the latest after announcing a hike in its standard variable rates.

But the limits and long-term sustainability of the Government's forbearance policy are being tested in the courts where borrowers -- many of whom have gone into immediate default after drawing down their home loans -- are racking up arrears of €30,000 a year or more.

Paul Joyce, senior policy researcher on consumer credit law for the Free Legal Advice Centre's (FLAC), told the Irish Independent that the Central Bank's revised code of conduct on mortgage arrears was good news for many borrowers.

But he said that the taxpayer cannot afford to wait until March next year, when the next Government must introduce a new law on personal debt and insolvency. He added it is not entirely certain if the 13,000 long-term arrears cases will qualify for the Central Bank's new Mortgage Arrears Resolution Process (MARP) because of difficulties in calculating issues such as when arrears commenced and what constitutes co-operation by homeowners.

The High Court is increasingly dealing with "hopeless cases" where families have defaulted in the weeks or months after they drew down their mortgage.

Last week High Court judges dealt with one family which had made less than €7,000 in capital payments in three years.

In another case a couple, who had arrears of more than €30,000 and stopped paying their mortgage two years ago, had tried to save their home by paying nominal payments of €20 to their lender.

Irish Independent