The issue of mortgage write-downs or ‘debt forgiveness’ has been a very thorny one in Ireland ever since the Irish banks effectively collapsed and were taken into state ownership. Thousands of home-owners lost their jobs at about the same time as the value of their property plunged. They found themselves in negative equity, preventing them from selling their now-devalued property and trapping them in apartment blocks and rural housing estates in a vicious circle that is hard to escape.
The realization that a certain level of mortgage write-downs would have to be granted was greeted with a mixture of despair by those who actually managed somehow to pay their mortgage and with an opportunistic ‘nod and a wink’ by those who are trying to ‘game the system’. There is anecdotal evidence that a certain number of home-owners are deliberately not paying their mortgage in anticipation of a deal being struck in the future. This is preventing write-downs being offered to the most deserving of cases, stalling the property market, trapping people in homes they cannot afford.
It is estimated that as many as 100,000 Irish mortgages are now in arrears of at least three months. It is inevitable that deals will have to be done with some if not many of these cases. The banks are unsurprisingly being very cagey. Where home-owners in arrears present themselves to the bank they are being offered longer terms, mortgage holidays, interest-only payments, split mortgages, etc., in an effort to give them some breathing space. For some, even these measures will not be enough.
The new Personal Insolvency Service has laid out a number of concessions that they expect from those desperate for a deal including:
* getting rid of a second car and even trading down to a lesser model of car
* an end to taking foreign holidays
* removal of certain Cable TV services including sports and movies packages
* removal of children from private schools
* ending of private health insurance
* any other obvious ‘unnecessary’ expense
The Personal Insolvency Service is part of the Government’s overhaul of the outdated bankruptcy laws in Ireland. Irish banks are expected to use the new rules and restrictions laid out by the Service in dealing with people seeking mortgage write-downs.
It is likely that these new measures may be tested in the Courts. The spectre of desperate families choosing between private education for their children and private health insurance over keeping their family in their home is likely to be loom large in the national consciousness and soon.
It is a battle that will likely get ever more bitter as the stark reality of a bank-imposed ‘austerity lifestyle’ hits home.