Seanad debates

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Mortgage Arrears: Statements, Questions and Answers


4:00 pm

Photo of Michael D'ArcyMichael D'Arcy (Fine Gael)

I want to inform the Minister of State that my first meeting today was with banks on behalf of two people who face a repossession. I am not sure whether he deals with such people directly or has such cases on his books. I am sure that everyone of us have some of those citizens of the country to deal with.

I do not like to use the term "repossession" if one can find a position that is acceptable to the bank. Instead, I call it "the hand back". One hands back the keys and, if the bank sees sense, they write down the remainder of the loan. I shall not name anybody or bank that I dealt with this morning. Unfortunately, I have not seen any sense. The individuals that I was dealing with had accepted that the people in question had no prospect of paying back their loan. They are on social welfare and they both owe approximately €400,000. A repayment is not doable.

We should not pretend that we will be able to save everybody with this insolvency Bill because we will not. For some people the best option will be to hand back their keys and write down the remainder of the loan, which means a non-recourse loan. I am told that there are constitutional issues for people here regarding legislation. If we can amend the Constitution to get rid of this House then we can amend it to deal with non-recourse loans.

I was surprised with the bank's attitude today because it accepted that these people had no chance of making it. Yet it said to me that it will become a matter for its credit committee which will make a decision and a determination will be passed on to the bank. The information will then be passed back to me. I would like to know who is on these credit committees and has the membership of every credit committee in the State been named. I wrote to the Financial Regulator today to look for the name of every credit committee within the covered institutions of this State and within the institutions controlled by the Financial Regulator. I would like to see who these people are. They seem to accept there is no prospect of people making it, while at the same time determining they will not write it off.

I would like to focus on the mortgages we need to deal with. I refer to the people who will make it with a small leg-up. Figures were released by the Central Bank today. I brought the wrong paper. I am looking at the numbers. Household debt is decreasing by over 1% every quarter. That is fairly substantial. According to the Central Bank, the overall level of household debt stands at €184.6 billion today. That represents a reduction of 13% from the peak in 2008. That is a fairly significant change in four years. Household debt is decreasing by an average of 1% per quarter. The people who are doing this are those who can afford to do so. That is having an effect on the overall economy because people are not putting money into the economy by spending it on nights out or weekends away. They are repaying their debts, which is the prudent and responsible thing to do. Those who are in real trouble are the people who cannot afford to do that because they do not have the disposable income to do so. Some 71,000 of them are in difficulties of 90 days or more.

I do not want to speak about the aspects of this matter that were discussed by the Minister of State and Senator Darragh O'Brien, such as the mortgage to rent scheme and the Keane report. Perhaps I will speak briefly about the Citizens Information Board. Are an additional 100 officials capable of dealing with the 71,000 people I have mentioned? That question needs to be asked. I wonder whether it can be done with 100 staff. I probably do not think it can. As I said earlier, some of the 71,000 people who have been in difficulty for 100 days or more are not going to make it. Many of them will make it as long as they get advice and information to help them in that direction. They need to reach the stage where the terms and conditions can be altered.

As the code of conduct has been mentioned, I will speak about local authority loans. I am currently dealing with the director of the finance and housing service in Wexford. Like Senator Darragh O'Brien, this is the area I know best. Local authorities have not yet been given an instruction on how to deal with people. They have asked for it, but it has not been provided by the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government or the Department of Finance. In my experience, these people have been the very best. They went the extra yard to get their homes. They saved more than others under the affordable homes scheme, for example. We are familiar with that scheme from our service on local authorities. These people have done exceptionally well.

If I were to speak at length on the personal insolvency Bill, I would be talking in a vacuum to some extent. I have not seen the final report of the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality on the Bill. I am a member of the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform. I look forward to reading the report.

I have said for a long time that I am concerned about the data that was compiled by an American corporation, BlackRock, when it assessed the banks. It made an adjudication that €6.5 billion should be added to the recapitalisation account in respect of home owners. I have a real concern that if the data is not accurate, the State and the Government will be required to provide more funds, in effect. I would not like that to happen. I want the banks to step up to the plate. I do not want the banks to go back to the people who have taken loans from them and are meeting their payments. They should not increase the interest rates imposed on such people in order to allow other people's loans to be written down.

I would like to make two other points before I let Senator Healy Eames in. The level of exceptional liquidity assistance from the European Central Bank and our Central Bank continues to stand at €128 billion. The existence of that fund allows the banks not to chase in a very vigorous manner the people to whom they gave loans. The people I am getting on best with, sub-prime lenders, want their money. They realise there is no point in imposing a judgment on somebody and leaving it at that, because those people will not be able to pay the money in the long run. We must differentiate between the people who cannot pay, the people who are trying it on and the people who are trying to get away with not paying. I do not want to see the people who are making their loan payments and paying their mortgages being saddled with higher interest rates because of those people who are trying to get away with not paying.


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