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Alarm over rising early stage mortgage arrears

Irish Examiner - Advocates for debt-saddled homeowners said they are shocked by official figures showing a rise in new early-stage mortgage arrears.

 

New Central Bank figures showed accounts in arrears for up to 90 days rose to 23,322 at the end of March, even as all other categories of longer-term arrears fell.

Early arrears have now risen for two straight quarters at a time when all indicators show the economy is growing at a fast pace.

Overall, the figures show that the number of mortgage accounts in arrears has fallen to 76,422.  

 

That means that about 10% of all residential mortgage accounts still face difficulties to some extent in meeting their home loan payments.

A further huge group, of almost 120,900 have had to have their home loans restructured.

The European Commission, the IMF and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development have repeatedly highlighted that the arrears problem here — a legacy of the severe Irish property crash — remains the highest in Europe.

Advocates said although baffled that the early arrears should be rising that the figures show that the perception that the mortgage arrears crisis has passed was wide of the mark.

Head of policy Paul Joyce at the Free Legal Advice Centres group (Flac) said it showed that many people were still facing economic hardship and struggling to pay their mortgages.

“The characterisation of mortgage arrears as a long-term arrears problem is fundamentally questionable,” said Mr Joyce.

The prospect of interest rate increases in the next few years should be “very scary” for all arrears cases.

Mr Joyce said that the figures showing that 13% of restructured mortgages have failed should raise alarm bells.

Restructured mortgages involve banks and distressed customers reaching new deals which are supposedly sustainable for the life of the home loan.

They include deals involving arrears capitalisation, split mortgages, and extensions to the term of the loan.

Mr Joyce said he was, in particular, concerned that “a relatively large” number of arrangements involving split mortgages — deals which did not exist three years ago and involve some ‘warehousing’ of part of the loan — were failing.

Eugene McErlean, an expert on the banking industry and corporate governance, said he believed the regulator “had taken the eye off the ball” in regards to early mortgage arrears.

Mr McErlean has advised the Independent Alliance TDs on mortgage arrears policy. He said failures in restructured mortgages were “a red flag that there is a problem”.

David Hall, head of the Irish Mortgage Holders Organisation said that banks continue to refuse to deal with “families in deep arrears”.

“I’m like a broken record at this stage warning about those in deep arrears,” said Mr Hall. “Progress in resolving these cases is pathetically slow and the blame for this lies firmly at the door of banks and vulture funds who simply will not accept the need to write off the mortgage debt that they will never recover and allow these families remain in their homes.”

The European Commission last month said it encouraged a process over bank debt deals “that involve write-offs for viable businesses and households".