Housing charity's fear as home repossessions soar
The number of home repossessions here soared by 15% in the last quarter of 2012 compared to the same period the year before, it has been revealed
Latest repossession statistics released by the Court Service show more than 10 writs were issued every day to property owners during 2012 – 3,694 in total.
During the last three months of the year, 839 such cases were referred to the High Court, up from 730 for the same period in 2011.
A leading housing charity described the levels of repossession in Northern Ireland as critical.
The Housing Rights Service said it is dealing with around 150 new cases every month – up 35% in the past year – and said the misery looks set to continue for beleaguered homeowners.
Janet Hunter, director of Housing Rights Service, said: "Mortgage repossession activity here has reached a critical point.
"We are experiencing sustained demand for our mortgage debt advice service with around 150 new cases every month. We are struggling to cope with this and cannot see the situation improving for some considerable time."
The slump in house prices in Northern Ireland over the past five years has resulted in it becoming the worst in the UK for negative equity.
This contrasts with England and Wales, where levels of negative equity are at a five-year low.
Over one-third of properties bought here since 2005 are worth less than what their owners paid for them.
Following 16 years of consecutive growth, Northern Ireland house prices recorded an annual rise of 47.5% in February 2007, surpassing all other areas of the UK (12% increase over the same period).
In 2007 the average Northern Ireland house price peaked at £234,000. However, by last year this had dropped to £139,000.
The closest comparator to our woes is the Republic of Ireland, where house prices have dropped by 50% since 2007. But the Irish Banking Federation recently noted that levels of repossession remain very low by international standards; standing at 20 per 100,000 Irish mortgages compared to 72 per 100,000 in the UK.
Housing Rights Service has called on the Government to come to the aid of those struggling to pay their mortgage here.
Ms Hunter said: "A co-ordinated effort is needed. We are pleased the Minister for Social Development (Nelson McCausland) is equally concerned and, as part of his Housing Strategy, has made a commitment to supporting those experiencing difficulties in sustaining their home."