Saturday 24 February 2018

Personal debt agency 'to fix crisis'

Cabinet mulls plan to create a task force to help struggling homeowners keep their properties

JOHN DRENNAN

THE Cabinet is considering the establishment of a personal debt agency to deal with the crisis in mortgage arrears.

The agency's task would be to help struggling homeowners restructure payments -- and find innovative ways to leave them in their homes if they are making a genuine effort to deal with their mortgage problems.

The Sunday Independent has also learnt that one of the key factors in the escalating arrears crisis is the endemic rise of joblessness among self-employed sole traders who are finding it almost impossible to secure welfare benefits.

The escalating crisis has led to a cross-party coalition consensus over the need to tackle this issue.

To date, the campaign has been led by the Fine Gael TD John Deasy, who told the Sunday Independent that the current treatment of the self-employed was "driving the flight to the black economy'' and leading to "a brain drain of the most entrepreneurial citizens".'

But the Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton has also commissioned "an urgent investigation'' by a high-powered departmental group on tax and social welfare into how the welfare system is failing the self-employed.

Ms Burton told the Sunday Independent she was "deeply aware of the cost implications such a move could have'.'

But she also noted that her department was going to have to engage in a "redesign'' of how it deals with the issue of who qualifies for welfare.

Up to recent times, the treatment of those self-employed citizens who are now jobless has been so hostile that John Deasy compared it to "a new system of apartheid".

Last week, Ms Burton said: "Some of the most harrowing stories I have heard in my constituency concern those who during the boom did the right thing, built up small companies, worked hard and now find themselves without any support when the bad times arrive."

In a straight-talking admission of a problem, Ms Burton said: "I wouldn't consider that we have a fully fledged welfare state if it cannot deal with citizens such as this.''

Mr Deasy has called for "a radical shift in how the Government spends its welfare budget to ensure the system rewards those who are actually anxious, willing and able to work''.

And while the TD agreed that there has to be a safety net for everyone, he also noted that "it's anti-productive for the State not to invest in the talents of newly unemployed tradesmen and wealth creators''.

He added that "every TD in the country is hearing anecdotal evidence" about the devastation being wrought on the lives of those individuals and warned that "tradesmen are going into the black market in droves because under the present system they are non-persons''.

A spokesperson for St Vincent de Paul also noted that the society is "seeing a lot more self-employed people who are in a bad way''.

The spokesman said: "It is a phenomenon we are really only seeing in the last year. People appear outwardly to be coping but behind the closed doors that does not appear to be the case."

Sunday Independent

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