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Man told he can't access government mortgage scheme because he's married

After initially being told he was eligible, the applicant was later told he wasn’t but argued there was no legal basis as to why.

Home page of the RIHL.
Home page of the RIHL.

A MAN WHO applied for a government-backed mortgage scheme under his name only was turned down because his wife is a non-EU national.

There are ten criteria that an applicant must satisfy to be eligible for the Rebuilding Ireland Home Loan (RIHL).

On his own, the man said he met all the criteria for the RIHL.

He applied for it as a sole applicant but was turned down and told a married person cannot apply for the mortgage on their own. 

He didn’t apply for the scheme with his wife because one of the criteria for applicants is an indefinite right to remain in Ireland either through nationality or refugee status. If he wasn’t married, he’d likely have been awarded the mortgage.

Rebuilding Ireland Home Loan

The RIHL is a government-backed mortgage for first-time buyers which you can avail of through your local authority. The buyers can use the loan to purchase a new or second-hand property or use it for a self build.

Crucially, it can offer up to 90% of the market value of the property making it an attractive option for those looking to get a mortgage who may not be able to save enough to meet the deposit requirements of a bank. 

People can apply as a single or joint applicants. Single applicants cannot have an income greater than €50,000 per annum. Joint applicants cannot have an income greater than €75,000.

There had been fears that the scheme was in danger of running out of funds last year as the government had underestimated the demand for the scheme

Earlier this month, the scheme increased its interest rates in a move the opposition described as “sneaky”. 

A Department of Housing spokesperson told TheJournal.ie that the RIHL “remains the most affordable mortgage on the market”. 

Situation

In an initial email, the applicant wrote to the Department of Housing to say he was interested in applying for a scheme and asked “may I apply as a single applicant even though I am married”.

He also pointed to his wife’s visa status in this email. His wife had only previously started new employment, and their combined income didn’t exceed the joint threshold for the scheme.

In response, a higher executive officer at the Department told him: “Yes you can apply as a single applicant. In this case only your income will be taken into account when deciding if you are eligible for the home loan.”

Although government-backed, the RIHL is administered and issued by the local authority of the applicant. 

This man applied through Dublin City Council. At an appointment with an officer from the council, he says he was told his application was “complete and generally correct”. 

However, he was told his application was not accepted because he was applying as a single applicant despite being married. 

He then went back and outlined what had happened to the department official he had initially dealt with.

That official replied: “Having re-read through your previous correspondence I now realise I provided you with incorrect information regarding the Rebuilding Ireland Home Loan. 

If you are married, you must apply for the Rebuilding Ireland Home Loan as a joint couple. I misunderstood your circumstances and without the full information to hand it is difficult to provide answers to queries such as this. It is for this reason that we encourage potential applicants to contact their local authority directly as part of the application process, and I apologise for this confusion. 

Not to be dissuaded, the applicant delved deeper into the issue asking to know on what basis he couldn’t apply as a single applicant. 

He found a case previously taken where a bank had refused a mortgage in similar circumstances.

In a case that came before the Equality Tribunal almost a decade ago, a man applied for a mortgage in his own name after the bank had originally told him his wife’s poor credit rating meant they were refused a mortgage when applying together. 

The man was then advised that he would not be able to get a mortgage in his sole name because he was married. The bank said it was “best practice” to lend to married couples jointly when it came to mortgages for a family home.

The Equality Tribunal ruled that the man had been discriminated against when he was turned down for the mortgage. 

“I am satisfied from the evidence that the respondent, in effect, operates a policy of not lending to a married person in their sole name where the mortgage security is the family home,” the adjudicator said.

The adjudicator added that the complainant “was discriminated against on the civil status ground”. 

The man was awarded €6,300 compensation, the maximum amount that could be awarded in the case. The adjudicator also made an order for the bank to ensure such a situation of discrimination didn’t happen again.

That case applied to a poor credit rating while this one with the RIHL case above sees a non-national without permanent permission to reside excluded from applying.

Turned down

Despite the applicant referencing this precedent in his request for his application to be considered, he was turned down for the RIHL.

In the decision from Dublin City Council, he was told: “As you are married you are not a single applicant and if applying for the RIHL, you must jointly apply with your wife.”

It was also pointed out that the council was awaiting instruction on whether it could accept Stamp 4 visa applicants on the scheme, and that even a joint application “could not be accepted at this time”.  Stamp 4 indicates permission to stay in Ireland for a specific period, and allows them to work.

The man got in touch with a solicitor who wrote to the council on his behalf, claiming he had been discriminated against on one of the nine grounds listed in the Equality Act 2000, i.e. his marital status. 

After a series of emails back and forth, an administrative officer from Dublin City Council wrote to the applicant to say that it was the instruction from the Department of Housing that single applications for married persons cannot be accepted.

“If the department inform the local authorities that individual applications from married persons are to be accepted then your application will be forwarded to the underwriter and credit committee for assessment,” the officer said.

The man then got back onto the department and asked what regulation or legal basis set out that the home loan couldn’t be given to a single applicant who’s married.

The department’s response was to say it was up to the local authority. 

“Under legislation, a local authority is independent in the performance of its functions and we are precluded from exercising any power or control in relation to any individual case with which a housing authority is or may be concerned,” it said. “We are therefore not in a position to comment on or deal with individual cases.”

In effect, the man was told by the council that it was a matter for the department. The department said it was a matter for the council.

Either way, he wasn’t getting approved for the mortgage. 

He submitted an FOI request asking for a basis on which they could refuse his application. He claimed there was nothing in the Housing (Rebuilding Ireland Home Loans) Regulations 2018 Act which prohibited a single person who’s married from being eligible for the scheme. 

In a lengthy response, six records were denied in the FOI request due to legal privilege and the man claims that there was nothing included that demonstrated why he was not deemed eligible.

He told TheJournal.ie: “Regardless of what the laws and regulations may or may not say, I find this to be a very discriminative practice. Given that I just married a few months before my RIHL application, my marriage was a really expensive endeavor. My advice would be to apply first to RIHL and then marry (eventually you can never know for sure if your spouse will be eligible or not).”

TheJournal.ie has contacted the Department of Housing and Dublin City Council for comment.

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Sean Murray

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