'Too difficult' arrears advice service a flop with homeowners
A SCHEME to provide access to an accountant for people in mortgage arrears could be dropped, after it emerged that just 300 people availed of it.
David Hall of the Irish Mortgage Holders Organisation said it was time to end the service set up by Social Protection Minister Joan Burton.
Up to 40,000 homeowners were expected to avail of the accountancy advice when the plan was launched in September 2012.
But a Dail answer given by Ms Burton has revealed that, so far, just 307 homeowners have made use of it.
Now the Department of Social Protection has admitted it is conducting a full review of the financial advice service.
Ms Burton told the Dail: "The review encompasses all aspects of the service and is expected to be completed shortly and will be published in due course."
The poor take-up appears to confirm the worst fears of a number of groups when it was launched. A host of organisations said it was pointless as the accountants are not allowed to make any recommendations to homeowners.
The accountants, who get paid by the homeowner's bank, can only review the offer made to the mortgage holder, explain it and outline its implications.
An explanatory note produced by one of the accountancy bodies involved in the project states: "We will not advise you (the homeowner) to take any course of action resulting from our discussion."
The homeowner will have already filled out an 11-page standard financial statement, and should have tried a short-term measure like interest-only or a payments holiday.
The accountant is then supposed to review a longer-term offer to the homeowner from the bank. A fee of €250 is paid to the accountants, and 2,000 of them have signed up to be part of the scheme.
But Mr Hall said the small numbers availing of it meant it was a failure.
"The Government should just admit it was always a bad idea and wind it up," said Mr Hall.
He said a better scheme would involve getting advisers to help people fill out the complicated standard financial statement.
This is supposed to be completed by all those in arrears, listing their income and all their outgoings.
But more than a third of people who are behind on their mortgage payments have failed to complete one of these forms, Mr Hall said. He said the forms were too difficult to fill out and were prescriptive and intimidating.
The Government had originally committed to providing 100 financial advisers to help those who are in mortgage distress. But this plan was dropped in favour of the accountancy scheme.
And the Coalition's Programme for Government had proposed that MABS would be converted into a strengthened personal debt management agency with quasi-judicial status. That plan has been dropped also.