Wednesday, 19 December 2018
Ceisteanna - Questions - Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions
Mortgage Arrears Information and Advice Service
42. To ask the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection if provision has been made for a dedicated mortgage advice system for MABS; the number of mortgage advisers this will include; when they are due to take up contracts; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [53329/18]
My question relates to the dedicated mortgage advisers who have been allocated to MABS to assist people who are struggling with debt, particularly related to their family homes. I ask the Minister to provide details on the status of that programme, the numbers of advisers involved and the type of contract they have.
I thank the Deputy for his question as it gives me a welcome opportunity to put the status of this service on the record of the House. The dedicated mortgage arrears advice service which operates across the MABS network was established in 2015 as part of the Government's response to providing supports to hundreds of thousands of mortgage holders who were in arrears at that time. The service aims to ensure that borrowers in mortgage arrears have access to information on the range of supports and options available to them and, where required, negotiates with lenders on their behalf. The service operates across the MABS network with a team of 27 advisers, five relief advisers and support staff. To date, it has helped over 6,000 borrowers with mortgage arrears issues.
Since its inception, the dedicated mortgage arrears service has become an integral part of the Abhaile service, which provides access for people who are insolvent and in mortgage arrears to independent financial and-or legal advice and assistance under a voucher scheme accessed through MABS. I am acutely aware of the good work being done by the dedicated mortgage arrears service and am determined that the service will continue in line with the other services provided under Abhaile, which are set to run until 2019. If, at the end of next year, we find that there are people who are still in need, I hope the Deputy will support me in my efforts to continue the service into the future, if this Government is still in situ. I have secured the money required for next year. The overall allocation is €2.5 million, which will cover the cost of the service to the end of 2019. We should have a conversation about this in the middle or the third quarter of next year so that we can determine how many people still have unresolved mortgage issues.
Abhaile is under the joint remit of my Department and the Department of Justice and Equality.
I appreciate the work the advisers are doing. They are doing tremendous work and I compliment them on that. However, there is a difficulty here. The Minister said that €2.5 million has been allocated and I presume that sum has been allocated to the Citizen's Information Board to pay the dedicated mortgage advisers. However, the advisers' contracts have only been extended until 15 February 2019, even though the sum of €2.5 million covers them for the full year. As a result, they have decided not to take on any new clients from 1 January because their position is uncertain, given that their contracts end on 15 February.
The Minister will be aware that as property values increase and vulture funds purchase more domestic loans, the pressure for repossessions will increase. In that context, MABS has a vital role to play. The situation cannot continue whereby dedicated mortgage advisers who are uncertain about their status are not willing to take on new clients as and from 1 January 2019. I do not need to remind the Minister or the House of recent events in Roscommon.
The Deputy is correct in saying that the current contract runs out on 15 February. However, the service is well aware that I am bringing a report on Abhaile to Cabinet in the first or second week in January with a request to extend the service. A memorandum will be brought to Government seeking an extension of the service to the end of 2019. I am particularly proud of the staff of Abhaile and MABS who look after people. The debt cycle is changing. The people who were presenting ten years ago, five years ago and those presenting today are all presenting with different types of debt and MABS has always responded to them equally.
Abhaile was a direct response to the mortgage arrears difficulties being faced by tens of thousands of people. The number of people in difficulty is reducing and 116,000 who were in mortgage arrears have had a solution provided to them that is in line with what they can afford. However, there is still a significant number of people in difficulty who can freely avail of the services of MABS and Abhaile.
The foreign institutions to which Deputy O'Dea just referred which, in many cases, have bought debt from what we call our pillar banks are far easier to deal with and are far quicker to do deals in order to secure debt and keep people in their homes.
I accept that the Minister is to recommend to Cabinet that Government authorises the continuation of the contract until the end of 2019. I ask her to do so immediately because there is an element of uncertainty here which has resulted in mortgage advisers deciding not to take on any new clients from 1 January. This is an undesirable situation. It is also my understanding that because many of these advisers have mortgages themselves and must pay their way, some of them are looking to the private sector for employment because of the uncertainty of their position. Would it be possible for the Minister to resolve this issue this side of Christmas?
That is not possible because the last Cabinet meeting before Christmas took place yesterday. The information that Deputy O'Dea brings to the House is news to me and I can guarantee that it is also news to the regional boards of MABS. We are certainly not refusing new clients or putting anyone's job or contract with Abhaile at risk. The service is fully aware that it has a full budget for 2019. The service providers do not have a contract beyond 15 February but they can be assured that I will bring a memo to Cabinet and agree an extension of that contract in the first two weeks of January. There is no threat whatsoever. There is no instability in the service that is being provided and there is certainly no lack of dedication on the part of those who are providing it.