Woman calls the gardai over bank 'harassment'
A WOMAN has reported her bank to gardai for allegedly harassing her with phone calls about her mortgage debt.
In what is believed to be the first case of its kind, Amy Heeney, a make-up artist at RTE, complained to Blanchardstown Garda Station about Permanent TSB's alleged harassment of her under the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act.
She claims that she has been receiving multiple calls from the bank, reminding her about her mortgage arrears, even though her advisor has been engaging with the bank on her behalf to try to reach a repayment agreement.
The Garda Siochana has advised Ms Heeney that her complaint is a civil matter. However, the Irish Mortgage Holders Organisation (IMHO) is getting legal advice with a view to going to the High Court to challenge that view. "We are looking for a written reply on Amy's complaint and we are getting legal advice on it with a view to a possible judicial review of the Garda decision," IMHO director David Hall said.
Permanent TSB said it was unaware of any Garda complaint, and said it works strictly within the Code of Conduct for Mortgage Arrears (CCMA).
The code for banks working with those in arrears says that communications from the lender must be proportionate and not excessive, taking into account the circumstances of the borrowers, and including that unnecessarily frequent communications are not made.
Ms Heeney told the Sunday Independent she received regular calls about her mortgage arrears over a two-year period, even though she appointed Mr Hall, of the IMHO.
Now 32, she took out a joint 100pc mortgage when she was 24, but got into difficulties less than two years later. She said she spent five years herself trying to hold on to the house, scrabbling to make the payments of monthly €970, but could not keep them up. She told the bank she could make only partial payments of €500, and fell into arrears.
"It got to the point where the phone calls got completely overwhelming. I had a young child at home. I was constantly explaining myself to different people, my whole story, start to finish," she told the Sunday Independent.
She said she has suffered from anxiety, palpitations, was hospitalised and put on a heart monitor for two days.
"I was trying my best to handle the situation. I felt unable to even speak about it because I felt so bad," she said. "The phone call - it was like a bomb. It could come at any time of the day."
She decided to appoint a solicitor and an auctioneer. She also contacted David Hall, who over the past 18 months has submitted three repayment plans on her behalf, which have been rejected.
Meanwhile, the bank continues to contact her about her arrears.
She said she is now being forced into bankruptcy, even though she is in a position to make at least partial repayments on her debt. "We are not disputing that I owe them money. I am not saying write off my debt. I am saying, I owe you money. Give me a figure. Let's work with it. Let's talk," she said.
Mr Hall has referred Ms Heeney's case to the Central Bank as part of a broader complaint about banks allegedly "ignoring" the code of conduct.
A spokesman for Permanent TSB said the bank "works very hard to develop realistic and workable solutions for customers with mortgage arrears and strives, where ever possible, to come to agreements with customers which enable them to remain in their homes."
A spokesman emphasised that customers with problems should "engage" with the bank.