New law will make it harder for courts to issue orders on family homes

Unregulated: Charlie Flanagan is also reviewing laws around private security firms. Photo: Damien Eagers

Shane Phelan, Gavin McLoughlin and Kevin Doyle

The Government is to introduce legislation that would make it more difficult for courts to grant possession orders for family homes.

The move is being taken even though new figures reveal the number of family homes being repossessed has fallen.

It comes amid considerable controversy over the eviction of a farmer and his siblings from a property in Co Roscommon last week and a subsequent vigilante attack on the security workers who carried out the eviction.

Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan also announced his officials were reviewing the law with a view to bringing private security firms who execute court orders under the remit of the Private Security Authority (PSA). They are currently unregulated.

Speaking in the Dáil, Mr Flanagan said a new Land and Conveyancing Law Reform (Amendment) Bill would broaden the range of matters a court must take into account when deciding whether to grant a possession order to a lending institution in a respect of a borrower's principal private residence.

When considering such applications, courts will be required to take into account a number of specific factors.

These will include whether such an order would be proportionate; the circumstances of the borrower and his or her dependents; and the conduct of the parties, including the conduct of the lender towards the borrower in any attempt to find a resolution on arrears.

The plans come as new statistics indicate the improving economy is helping to cut the number of mortgages in arrears.

The Central Bank figures show 191 homes were repossessed in July to September, down from 292 in April to June. The vast bulk of the repossessions were carried out by banks, the figures show.

Of the 191 homes taken in July to September, just 30 were done by "non-bank entities" - and not all of those are vulture funds. It is now expected the total number of repossessions in 2018 will be well behind last year. A Central Bank spokesman said 1,417 family homes were repossessed last year.

For the first nine months of this year, the number was 847.

The data showed the number of mortgages in arrears has continued to fall.

At the end of September, 64,510 family home mortgages were in arrears, down 2.9pc compared to the end of June.

Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe said the figures showed progress was being made in dealing with "a tremendously difficult issue for families across the country".

However, he admitted that more progress needs to be made, "especially at a time when the economy is stable".

David Hall, chief executive of the Irish Mortgage Holders' Organisation, said that the fall in repossessions may have been down to a recent legal case which cast doubt over the validity of some instances.

"Many of the funds haven't been proactive in the last period of time because of that", Mr Hall said.

He added that he had "no doubt" that repossessions would increase in future.

The Central Bank figures also showed that lenders currently hold just over 3,200 properties that have been repossessed.

That was a decline on the previous quarter, but the figure has attracted criticism in the context of the ongoing housing crisis.

The law requiring courts to consider certain factors before granting possession orders for family homes looks set to be followed by legislation on the regulation of security staff executing such orders.

Although most security workers are regulated by the PSA and obliged by law to wear an identification badge, this is not the case with operators who execute court orders.

Mr Flanagan said he was aware of "some disquiet" about private security operators carrying out such work.

"I expect a report [on this issue] from an intergovernmental group, chaired by a senior official from my own department, in January 2019 and I will then make all the necessary and appropriate steps in the light of the report," he said.