Belfast Telegraph

Number of repossessions in Northern Ireland declining as the housing market gets back on its feet

By John Mulgrew

The number of home repossession cases is continuing to fall in Northern Ireland as the housing market here begins to improve.

The latest figures were revealed by Brian McNair, of the Enforcements and Judgments Office in Northern Ireland, during an annual event by the Council of Mortgage Lenders (CML).

He said the number of applications for repossessions fell from just over 1,400 to 1,100 during the last financial year.

"We have seen a big spike over the last few years since the market crashed in 2008/09, and we have particularly been busy when the market is in downturn," he said.

And the number of cases completed also dropped, falling from 1,084 in 2014/15 to 622 in 2015/16.

Mr McNair said the spike in repossessions had peaked in around 2013/2014, due to the property crash of 2008.

He said the number of repossessions had been "sliding down as the market gets a bit better".

Also speaking at the event in Titanic Belfast was Ursula Toner, advice services manager of Housing Rights.

"Clients range from the early stages of arrears, right through to those at the mouth of eviction," she said.

She said there were a range of problems being faced by borrowers in Northern Ireland.

They include negative equity, families being burdened by a range of debts, cuts to benefits and interest-only mortgages.

And she said many families were not aware that by making interest-only payments on their mortgages, that they were not clearing any of the debt.

"A lot of clients have suffered job losses or a cut in hours," she said.

But while families often have to go to court in order to sort out their arrears she said it remained an "ongoing concern" that many people in Northern Ireland ignore letters from the Courts Service, and do not attend.

Housing Rights is a Government-appointed, specialist advice service, aimed at mediating and finding suitable solutions for families and individuals struggling to pay their mortgages.

Ms Toner added the organisation did not have a "conflicting agenda" with banks or other lenders and works towards the "best outcome for the client".

In one recent case the Housing Rights service worked on, Ms Toner said a couple in their late 50s were struggling to make their mortgage payments, with the wife also seriously ill.

The problems were also exacerbated due to other debts. But she said the service managed to stave off a repossession from the bank, reduce the amount being paid to cover a Credit Union debt, and secure a five-year extension on the mortgage.

Meanwhile, overall mortgage lending fell back by nearly a third in April as a stamp duty hike for buy-to-let investors came into force.

The Council of Mortgage Lenders (CML) estimates that gross mortgage lending reached £18.5bn in April.

This was 29% or £7.7bn lower than March's lending total of £26.2bn.

Belfast Telegraph