Thursday , March 4 2021

Tens of thousands in mortgage distress have been 'abandoned and forgotten'

Tens of thousands of people living under the cloud of severe mortgage distress have been "abandoned and forgotten" by the state and still remain burdened with shame and stress, a damning new research project published in the third suggests.

The House Hold project, compiled by the social justice NGO Community Action Network (CAN), said people in long-term mortgage arrears were forced to argue with the lack of legal representation, dismissal in court and failure of state support systems.

It used information collected from distressed borrowers at eight public information sessions held earlier this year as well as a separate a survey.

"People are overwhelmed by the reality they find themselves in," said CAN lead investigator Cecilia Forrestal. "They can not afford legal advice and do not trust that they will work for them against strong legal representation of banks and vulture funds. They feel abandoned and forgotten – almost like collateral damage from the past – as the country embraces the move out of the economic crisis. "

She pointed out that the people were "raising families, looking after children, caring for loved ones with disabilities, and doing what they can to hold their homes", and she warned that if they lost their homes to vulture funds or banks "they have no where else to go and are at high risk of adding to our homelessness crisis. "

Julie Sadlier, a solicitor who has been working with distressed borrowers for over 10 years, said the research was the first such project to focus on "living reality of people behind the statistics and balance sheets" and she accused the Central Bank of consistently highlighting the needs of banks at the expense of families at risk of losing their homes.

"Over the past 10 years, we have completely lost sight of the humanity of the situation, and of the fact that many people, because of a variety of circumstances, have no way of dealing with a bank and are looking to lose their family home, "she said.

"The state schemes we have in place do not seem to be working either. Criteria for the mortgage-to-rent scheme are not reflecting the current market reality, and supports those intended to help people with financial and legal advice fail to build trust. "

Legal fees

The report finds that over 70 percent of people who have been struggling have never consulted a solicitor while over 80 percent have not had a solicitor to represent them in court. Most said they could not afford legal fees.

The courts were described as intimidating, hard to understand, dare and largely intolerant of unrepresented plaintiffs and lay litigants and contrary to popular narratives, 72 percent of people in mortgage distress have been involved in their case hearings.

The research shows that systems put in place to support people in mortgage distress are not working. Nearly 60 percent said they had not participated in the Money Advice and Budgeting Service (MABS), while more than 90 percent said they had not requested a consultation with a solicitor through the Abhaile scheme.

According to the research, the majority of properties at risk of possession are long-standing family homes, and just under half have one or more children in them while almost one quarter have one or more people with a disability.

There are some 66,000 mortgages in Ireland, of which 28,000 are in arrears for more than two years. There are currently around 20,000 cases before the courts. Based on a minimum of four people per mortgage, the CAN researchers estimate that mortgage holds on the lives of approximately 250,000 people.

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