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Padraig O'Morain: Homeowners must band together over mortgage miseries

Get up off your knees was the advice given to Irish workers almost 100 years ago. Today it is Irish homeowners who need to heed that call -- but getting together might just be as important as getting off their knees.

We know the number of mortgages in arrears for more than 90 days in the first quarter was over 32,000. That's a lot of misery for the homeowners concerned. The number has been rising for the past year at least and it's a safe bet that it will go on rising.

But how many of that 32,000 know the other people in the same predicament? Hardly any, I suggest.

That's a mistake. What we now have are tens of thousands of homeowners individually undergoing the dreadful stress of being in arrears on a mortgage. Many feel anxiety, fear, shame and embarrassment which make it harder for them to gather up the courage to negotiate with the lender.

I have little doubt also that many people's physical health is suffering also under this extreme pressure.

That's why I believe beleaguered home owners should get together for moral support and mutual advice and to pressurise government and banks to act in their interests also.



Stronger

A homeowner going to meet a bank official armed with knowledge and support from a group of people in the same predicament is in a far stronger position than someone who goes in filled with shame and fear.

In the world of mental health it has been known for a very long time indeed that people with a particular problem -- depression, a physical illness, an addiction, for instance -- can achieve great things if they get together to support each other in a structured way.

The most immediate benefit is to the person's well-being. Knowing that other people are in the same boat as yourself is a great relief. Talking to people who know what you're going through because they also are going through it is even better.

In isolation all you've got is anxiety to feed your worst fears. With support from like-minded people, hope gets a chance.

Recently the Master of the High Court, Edmund Honohan, made some fascinating remarks which should be of comfort to those homeowners who are in arrears and who read them.

If you are in arrears but cannot clear them, then leave them to one side for now and make regular payments to the bank or building society even if you cannot meet the full monthly amount due, he advised. Also you should negotiate with the lender but only agree to terms that you are able to meet. If the lender wants to put you onto an arrangement which you know won't work, argue about it and take the matter further. In the meantime keep paying what you are able to pay. This is valuable advice but you have to have read the newspaper reports of the day to know about it.

But a support group can have that information and can advise members about going to MABS (the Money Advice and Budgeting Service) and about negotiating a deal they can keep. A support group would also encourage members to make every effort to keep to that deal.

If you're suffering in isolation, remember that there are other people on your street or road or in your parish who are in the same situation. It's time to start talking to each other. The arrears club is a very big one indeed, with more than 30,000 potential members right now and more on the way.

So get together. Write a letter to the papers. Get onto Twitter or Facebook. Ring Joe Duffy. Make it happen.

Padraig O'Morain is accredited as a counsellor by the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy


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