Belfast Telegraph

Surge in mortgage defaulters in South

By Charlie Weston

A sharp rise in the number of families in the Republic unable to repay their mortgages is being viewed as a sign the mortgage crisis is worsening.

'MORTGAGE misery' has become a constant alliterative phrase in the lexicon of the business or consumer journalist over the last few years. And it's unlikely the phrase will vanish from frequent usage in the near future. Despite the occasional sign of life in the economy, whether the UK's or the Republic's, having a roof over one's head of one's own is a fraught business.

And it's both getting a home in the first place and keeping it that are difficult. Lending criteria are as tight as ever with deposits of at least 25% of purchase price the norm. That can take a long time to save for. It's not so difficult if you're buying at the lower end of the market, but for couples wanting to start off life together in a decent-sized house, it can be next to impossible to secure a mortgage.

Of course we could become a nation of permanent tenants and emulate our sophisticated continental cousins, for whom renting on long tenancy agreements is the norm rather than something to be faintly embarrassed about beyond a certain age, but the ideal of owning a home is ingrained in the Irish psyche, north and south.

Figures from the Republic show that the number of home-owners who are three months are more behind on their repayments jumped to almost 36,500 in June.

Mortgage lending in the UK has also failed to pick up. In July lending by the major banks fell to its second lowest level since February 2001 of £1.95bn.

The figures from the Financial Regulator showed that the numbers of families in arrears for three months or more jumped by more than 4,000 in the three months to June, compared with the first three months of the year.

Alarmingly, three-quarters of those in arrears have not paid their mortgage for six months or longer. Job losses, pay cuts, tax hikes and overborrowing have meant that many families are under severe pressure to meet their monthly repayments.

The statistics from the Republic's Financial Regulator do not indicate the number of households in which the main breadwinner has lost a job and savings are being used up to pay the mortgage.

Analyst Frank Conway of Irish Mortgage Corporation said banks were doing all they could to survive - which means increasing their interest rates for their borrowers. That was counter-productive in the murky economic mess in which we remain. "Banks should now reverse some of their interest rate increases to give those most vulnerable some financial breathing space," he said.