Belfast Telegraph

Mortgage misery on rise: Number of people facing repossession actions from lenders up 3%

BY MARGARET CANNING

Northern Ireland's homeowners are facing growing problems making mortgage repayments despite improvements in the economy, new figures show.

Repossession remains a very real threat for many people, with new cases brought by lenders over arrears up nearly 3% in the first six months of 2013, compared to the same period last year.

There were 1,958 cases received in the High Court in the first six months of this year, according to the Court Service, compared to 1,907 in the same period in 2012.

Within that, April to June saw 950 new cases come before the court, down 7% from 1,021 a year earlier.

There were 723 final orders made in that same period in older cases, down slightly from 748 in 2012.

In around two-thirds of those cases – 480 – the borrowers lost their homes, compared to 502 in the same time a year earlier.

But around 171 suspended possession orders were granted, giving borrowers time to pay off their arrears.

These orders allow people to stay in her home provided they work on paying off arrears.

Despite the most recent fall in new cases, the Housing Rights Service (HRS), a Government body set up to advise people in mortgage difficulty, said more and more people were coming to them for advice.

Around 400 households contacted the service between April and June – up 26% on the same time last year, the organisation said.

HRS urged people to get in touch with them if they were concerned about losing their home, and emphasised that people should attend their court hearings.

Policy manager Nicola McCrudden said: "Living with threat of losing your home is extremely stressful and can leave people with a sense of hopelessness.

"This is understandable, but it's important to realise that there can still be options. Even when a court date has been set, people should attend, as our advisers will be there to provide on-the-day assistance."

The Department for Social Development, which funds HRS, is to set up a group to gather information on how to prevent repossession.

Ms McCrudden said: "Unlike Britain, repossession levels in Northern Ireland continue to climb, and we also suffer from a huge negative equity problem which affects around 75% of our clients.

"Ironically, despite these unique circumstances, we have fewer support initiatives or debt relief options in comparison to neighbouring jurisdictions.

"We welcome the Social Development Minister's commitment to establish a working group and urge him to action this sooner rather than later to prevent more people from losing their homes."

The biggest jump in mortgage cases came in 2008, when 3,630 new cases began – up 64% on the year before. They peaked at 3,906 one year later, fell to a low of around 3,400 in 2010 but climbed again in 2011 to 3,588 and to 3,732 in 2012.

The Court Service figures portray the continued difficulties facing consumers still struggling with the effects of the economic downturn.

However, the picture appears to be improving for businesses, with the Ulster Bank purchasing managers' index showing an upturn in business activity in July.

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