I’M ON ILLNESS benefit now. Previous to being on illness benefit I was working, and I was struggling with my mortgage then. I was on interest-only payments for a year, and I entered into the Mortgage Arrears Resolution process. But the bank wouldn’t cooperate with me.
They basically sent me out a thing saying ‘This is what we want you to pay. We’ve seen your financial statement and the amount of money you have coming in, this is what we want.’ But they never offered me anything else. I’d suggested things to them, and they used that against me – they said ‘you asked for debt forgiveness’.
So I went to the Financial Services Ombudsman, and they wrote to the bank asking to mediate. But the bank refused to go into mediation with me. They didn’t give a reason, they just said they weren’t going into mediation. And the Ombudsman said due to the backlog of cases they had, they would only be able to investigate my complaint within 20 weeks. That was in July.
The bank are doing as little as possible. Even though they’re saying ‘Get in touch with us right away, and we’ll sit down and work it out with you’ – there’s no cooperation at all. It’s all for them. They’re just using the process totally in their own favour, and they’re not coming back with anything at all. I’ve a family, two children three and two. I went to MABS for the first time in 2010, and I said to the man, ‘All I want is to be treated fairly.’ And he said ‘If you’re looking for fairness from the banks, you can forget that right now.’
‘People’s houses need to be revalued’
The banks have been recapitalised. The government have said that there is money there. It was the banks that caused this crisis; it wasn’t me and my family; we didn’t cause this issue in Ireland with our mortgages. People’s houses need to be revalued, and then that’s what you owe. And if people are still struggling then the mortgages need to be extended. What would be wrong with extending people’s mortgages to 50 years, or to 80 years? At least in 40 years time you’d have half the mortgage paid, and maybe your children would want to take over the house – or they could sell it and pay whatever.
I don’t think anybody would want to buy the house. But if we sold it… We bought it for €190,000; let’s say it’s worth €120,000 now. If we sold it for that, we’d still owe €70,000 and we would be homeless.
There’s a prospect that we could lose our house. I think a lot of people in Ireland are facing the same thing. I’m on illness benefit; I can’t afford to pay what they’re demanding. I can’t have my children growing up without food, heat, clothes. That’s what would happen. It’s a struggle enough just to be paying what we’re paying now.
I worked as a frontline worker with homeless people for the past ten years. And there’s a stigma around homelessness. People think homelessness is to do with addiction problems, or things like that. And I find now that there’s a stigma around people who are struggling with their mortgages. There’s people hiding – thousands and thousands of people, not saying, hiding in their houses, and they’re scared. People have killed themselves, it’s driving people to addiction, it’s driving people to mental illness. I’m not going to let that happen to me. I’ve done nothing wrong, so I’m not going to beat myself up.
‘People have nothing to be ashamed of’
People have nothing to be ashamed of. There’s thousands of people in this country who are ashamed that they cannot meet the impossible demands that the banks are making. I think the shame for them is the stigma of being identified as somebody who isn’t stepping up to the plate, to the grade. But it is impossible to step up to.
I think it would help the situation if people were more open, because it would identify the true nature of the problem in the country. Because there are a lot of people going under the radar. Who are paying their mortgages, but they can’t really afford to, and they are doing without. They’re not being able to pay for food, just to keep up with a ridiculous mortgage.
The way I would respond to people saying ‘You’ve made your bed and now you have to lie in it’? I would refer to what the then Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, was saying just a couple of years ago. He said there was no crisis. ‘People keep talking the country down, but there’s nothing wrong. All this scaremongering and doommongering.’ Bertie Ahern told us as Taoiseach of Ireland that that wasn’t happening, that everything was OK. He even said the people who were saying this should go away and kill themselves. And we listened to our Taoiseach, and he told us everything was OK and nothing was wrong.
James McKay lives with his family in Galway, and is a member of the People’s Association Watchdog. He decided to go public with his story after finance minister Michael Noonan suggested that people in mortgage difficulties who were ashamed would not have to identify themselves. As told to Michael Freeman.