Tuesday 20 August 2019

Predicted 'tsunami of repossessions' has not happened

Over the past eight years, a total of 1,471 family homes have actually been repossessed by the banks by court order
Over the past eight years, a total of 1,471 family homes have actually been repossessed by the banks by court order

Brendan Burgess

Over the past eight years, a total of 1,471 family homes have actually been repossessed by the banks by court order.

When you consider that in excess of 120,000 people have been in arrears at some stage over that period, 1,471 is a very low figure.

I have attended the Circuit Courts in Dublin, Donegal, Wicklow and Meath in recent months to see for myself what is happening. Séamus Coffey and Karl Deeter have attended the Circuit Courts in Cork and Dublin.

It's very clear: if a borrower wants to keep their family home and pays something, the lender hasn't a hope of getting an order for possession from the courts.

I had heard that the County Registrar in Meath, who runs the repossession hearings, was tough on borrowers, so I went down to the court in Trim last Monday to see for myself.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Out of 103 cases, 25 were struck out, 73 were adjourned and the banks succeeded in getting orders in five cases. Not quite the tsunami of repossessions we keep hearing about. So were these five repossessions justified?

Judge for yourself.

The first repossession was for a 'family home', which had been rented out.

The owners appeared to have left the country. The arrears were €62,000 on a mortgage of €294,000. The last payment was €400 in June 2015.

The last engagement with the lender was in June 2014 and despite five attempts by the bank to call them, its staff had not been able to speak to them. Nor did the owners show up in court. So the borrowers are collecting the rent and not paying their mortgage.

The lender, Ulster Bank, began legal proceedings back in early 2013, so it has taken it almost three years to get an order for possession.

The second case involved a sub-prime lender, where no payment had been made by the borrower since November 2012.

Not surprising, really, as the house had burnt down.

There appeared to be a dispute over the insurance and the solicitor representing the borrower asked the court for yet another adjournment to try to sort out the insurance.

But at the last court hearing, the Registrar had told the borrower that she would give them one last chance - but only one.

They had not resolved it in that time, so she granted the lender an order for possession.

The third 'family home' was also rented out. The owners appeared to have moved to Donegal. Again, they did not show up in court to argue their case.

The last payment was in 2008 - seven years ago.

So they have been pocketing the rent and paying nothing to the lender, Bank of Ireland. There are arrears of €91,000.

The fourth order was granted to AIB. The last payment was made in June 2010 for €500 on a mortgage of €261,000 with €83,000 arrears. This was the only one of the five cases where the borrower did actually show up in court.

She told the Registrar that as the house was in a remote place in County Meath, she could no longer afford to live in it and had moved to Dublin. Despite the fact that she consented to the order, the lender had to take her to court, as the joint borrower, whom she had not seen for six years, was not contactable to agree to the voluntary surrender.

The fifth order was the only case where it appeared that the family might still be living in the home.

The balance was €611,000 and they had arrears of €57,000.

The last payment was received back in January 2011. Legal proceedings were initiated by the bank in early 2013.

Despite not receiving any payment in almost five years, it has taken the bank three years to gain the order for possession.

And the Registrar, in granting the order, put a nine-month stay on the carrying out of the order as "the borrowers might do something in the meantime". So even the figure of 1,471 repossessions of family homes seems to be an exaggeration.

Most of the properties were rented out or vacant. Most of the borrowers had huge arrears and were paying nothing. If it is your family home, no matter how bad the situation is and no matter how late in the day it is, talk to the Money Advice and Budgeting Service and talk to your lender. If you do so and pay something and show up in court, you will not lose your home - unless you agree to do so.

Brendan Burgess is founder of the consumer forum Askaboutmoney.com

Irish Independent

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