Action call as repossession rates rocket
The Executive needs to take urgent action to help the rising number of struggling families facing losing their homes because of soaring repossession rates, according to housing advisers and legal experts.
The Law Society of Northern Ireland has called for a working group to be set up by the Department for Social Development to address the growing problem.
As reported in the Belfast Telegraph last week, statistics released by the Court Service show cases of repossessions have risen by 15% in the last quarter of 2012 compared to the same period the year before.
Legal experts have described the escalating problem as one that is having "enormous" social effects, including the destruction of the family unit.
Insolvency practitioner Brian Walker said a different approach is needed to address the problem.
"The Law Society has indicated to the DSD to create a working party between all the stakeholders to find a way forward out of this terrible social dilemma – which it is only going to get worse because interest rates are going to rise and interest-only mortgages are going to be converted to repayment mortgages."
Mr Walker said members from the Law Society have already met representatives of the DSD urging them to adopt a simple solution to this and a more co-ordinated approach to it.
He said this was "because the social effects of the destruction of the family unit under this financial pressure are enormous and that inevitably will be visited on the public purse".
After 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.
The average house price here peaked at £234,000 but dropped to £139,000 in 2012.
Janet Hunter, director of Housing Rights Service, the leading specialist provider of independent housing advice in Northern Ireland, said they are being contacted by more than 150 clients facing repossession every month
"Sadly most of those people will end up in court because unfortunately a lot of people contact us at a very late stage when legal action has been initiated and the court date has already been set," she said.
"A lot of people stick their heads in the sand they leave it to the very last moment."
Ms Hunter, however, said it is "never too late" to seek help.
"We will attend court with people and negotiate on their behalf."
She added that about 75% of people they represent can negotiate payment agreement with the lenders.
"We think it has reached the stage now here in Northern Ireland where the Executive does need to do more.
"It needs to put in place a package of measures to support people who are struggling to stay in their home to get them in the difficult time and to keep them in their homes.
"There is a range of initiatives which could be looked at.
"The DSD has recently released a housing strategy and they have made a general commitment to help struggling home-owners, but what we would like the government to do is sit down with key stakeholders and work out what could that package of measures look like for people here."