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How many mortgage holders were taken to the High Court by banks so far this year?

The numbers are down on recent years but there still has been almost 300 cases initiated in the High Court.

ALMOST 300 MORTGAGE holders have been taken to the High Court by five of the main banks operating in Ireland in the first six months of this year.

Almost a decade on from the bank guarantee, which preceded the collapse of Irish financial institutions and ultimately cost the taxpayer billions, a considerable number of people and families are still feeling the effects of the mortgage crisis.

The overall trend for the number of cases being taken is downwards but an examination of the cases initiated in the first six months of the past three years shows that more than 1,000 mortgage holders have been taken to the High Court.

Speaking to TheJournal.ie, Solidarity-PBP TD Mick Barry said that at this rate there will be more than 500 High Court repossession cases in 2018, “a figure that is still way, way too high”.

The first port of call for banks when the matter gets escalated to the judiciary is the Circuit Court, but this can be escalated to the High Court in a number of cases. Arrears will usually have accumulated for a significant amount of time before the matter gets this far.

Typically, these will be cases that have fallen into arrears where the bank may be seeking the High Court to grant a repossession order of the home or property.

Crunching the numbers, most banks have decreased the number of High Court actions they’ve taken against mortgage holders, with the exception of Permanent TSB which has significantly increased these actions.

Here’s a breakdown:

  • AIB – 47 cases
  • Bank of Ireland – 73
  • Permanent TSB – 102
  • KBC – 45
  • Ulster Bank – 23

20180725_Banks_1 Source: Statista

The overall number of cases continues to see a downward trend. In 2016, there were 370 cases brought in the first six months of the year. That figure was 348 last year, and the figure is at 290 for this year.

There’s been a significant drop in cases brought by AIB this year. The past three years have seen cases in triple figures each time – 134 in 2015, 237 in 2016 and 148 in 2017.

20180725_Banks_2 Source: Statista

That’s dropped by over 100 in the first six months of this year.

Bank of Ireland has seen a largely similar number of cases over the past few years, with numbers dropping slightly each time. It went from 97 in 2016 to 88 in 2017, and then 73 this year.

In Ulster Bank’s case, this year’s figure of 23 is slightly higher than the previous two years’ figures of 16 in 2017 and 14 in 2016.

The sharp increase in the number of cases taken by Permanent TSB, meanwhile, has coincided with an announcement earlier this year that it planned to sell off €3.7 billion worth of non-performing loans.

From numbers of cases in the teens in the first six months of previous years, that number is now 102 for 2018.

20180725_Banks_3 Source: Statista

The bank proposed the sell-off of 18,000 properties, including 14,000 private dwelling homes. It said the loans were “typically owned by customers who have not engaged with the bank, whose mortgages are unsustainable or who have been unable to meet the terms of various treatments put in place”.

At an Oireachtas Committee Hearing in March, Permanent TSB chief executive Jeremy Masding said that the mortgages of thousands of customers were to be included in the massive loan sale, despite the fact that they have been meeting the terms of their agreement.

The looming threat of vulture funds taking over such properties remains a worry for many homeowners, demonstrated by the recent campaign by residents of the Leeside Apartments in Cork.

Residents facing eviction had appealed their case to the Residential Tenancies Board, but it sided with fund Lugus Capital and agreed that the refurbishment works the building’s owner wanted to carry out were necessary.

On a wider basis, latest Central Bank figures for the first three months of this year show that there are 29,818 residential mortgage arrears cases where the mortgage holder is in arrears for more than 720 days.

Earlier this year, the Master of the High Court warned of a “wave of repossessions [of homes]” that’s about to break.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland in February, Honohan said that he has “people coming into [his] court on a daily basis trying to stave off repossession”.

Cork North-Central TD Mick Barry has been an advocate for the Leeside residents for some time and he said that this data is of particular concern when it comes to Permanent TSB.

Barry added that banks should not be allowed sell these mortgage loans to vulture funds, and that those unable to keep up with a repayments schedule should enter a scheme where they can remain in their home in return for signing the property over to the State in the form of a local authority.

Such a scheme was launched earlier this month in the form of a new privately owned commercial company operating under the government’s mortgage to rent scheme.

Last year, Minister Eoghan Murphy stated the way in which the mortgage-to-rent scheme had been funded in the past may not have been capable of delivering the “scale of successful cases that could benefit from the scheme over time”.

He said that for this reason “alternative funding models” were being examined which included working with a number of “financial entities who have expressed an interest”.

This came in this month in the form of Home For Life – a private company will buy the homes of distressed property owners in arrears and then long-term lease the home back to a local council and the people who live in the house would become social housing tenants.

The company currently has an agreement with PTSB in which eligible mortgage holders can apply to it, and said it is also in discussion with other financial entities.

It has a fund of €100 million to provide 500 “solutions” for mortgage holders in arrears, and scope to invest more.

Commenting on the number of High Court cases taken against mortgage holders by PTSB, Barry added: “PTSB are taking a particularly aggressive stance and a big concern is that this is a precursor to them selling their loan book to even more aggressive operators.

If Permanent TSB and Ulster Bank sell their loan books to vulture funds, 25,000 homeowners will be dragged into the line of fire.

TheJournal.ie contacted the banks for comment.

An AIB spokesperson said: “AIB has made, and continues to make, every effort to reach sustainable arrangements with customers. AIB always seeks a non-legal resolution and consensual debt restructuring with customers and only resorts to legal action where a borrower does not fully engage.”

An Ulster Bank spokesperson said: “In rare/ exceptional circumstances (i.e. not typical) they can end up at the High Court and that would often (but not in all cases) be after a number of years.”

A Bank of Ireland spokesperson said: “Our approach is always to work with customers to attempt to find solutions when they face financial difficulty. This approach is working and in  9 out of 10 cases the bank is able to agree a restructured approach to mortgage arrears. Legal action is always a last resort and only used when all other options are exhausted or if a borrower will not engage with the bank.

Repossession proceedings are not commenced in the High Court but rather in the Circuit Court. Whilst individual cases will vary, in our experience the average length of time it takes from when a mortgage is in arrears to a repossession in the circuit court is approximately 3 to 5 years.

The spokesperson added that proceedings in the High Court can vary in areas such as commercial business, receiverships and buy-to-let cases.

With reporting from Cormac Fitzgerald

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Sean Murray

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