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6,000 households in mortgage arrears for over 12 months

MORE than 6,000 homeowners in Ireland have failed to make mortgage payments for more than a year.

Ratings agency Moody's warned that the number of arrears in payments was continuing to increase among mortgage holders.

The agency also anticipated that house prices would fall further, having fallen by 31.5pc from the peak in March 2007.

Moody's estimated that 3.3pc of home loans here were in arrears of three months or more and some 0.8pc were in arrears for 360 days or more.

Data from the Irish Courts Service shows that out of 800,000 outstanding mortgage loans in Ireland, 29,000 have gone unpaid for more than 90 days and 397 properties have been repossessed as of the end of 2009.

The Irish Banking Federation admitted recently that some 30,000 Irish homeowners were struggling to pay their mortgages. Some financial institutions have allowed their customers to take a payment holiday, letting them pay interest only, or granting them a longer life mortgage.

The most recent figures from the Financial Regulator show 3.6pc of mortgage accounts were in arrears in December, compared with 3.3pc in September.

The figures indicated a slowdown in the rate at which households were getting into difficulty, although the absolute number continued to rise.

According to the regulator, the number of borrowers in arrears was around 20pc lower than the number of accounts, as it was possible to have two or more mortgage accounts on the same property.

Analysts said that it was difficult to outline a true picture as some lenders were converting mortgages into interest-only loans or coming to other arrangements to avoid admitting that loans were overdue.

While low interest rates may have helped borrowers to keep up with their loans, Moody's said it did not expect demand for credit to increase until the labour market starts to recover in the second half of the year.

And although Moody's said that there was "a rapid deterioration" in the quality of the loans over the past year, there had been "only marginal repossessions and losses" reported.

The size of the outstanding mortgage-backed securities in the bond market monitored by Moody's was €42.9bn as of January 2010, up from €39.3bn a year earlier.