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Surge in Northern Ireland house repossessions

There has been an 11% jump in the number of families facing repossession in Northern Ireland

However, The Housing Rights Service warned that many people make the mistake of failing to turn up for court hearings that rule on their cases.

The organisation also urged anyone facing difficulties to contact their mortgage lender and make use of the free advice available on their financial options.

Figures released by the Northern Ireland Court Service showed that January to March this year saw 856 writs and originating summonses issued in relation to repossessions.

This represented an 11% increase in the number of mortgage cases received in the same period last year (773 in 2010) and a 51% increase over the last five years (from 566 in 2007).

Ursula Toner, of Housing Rights Service, responding to the figures, said: "As we provide emergency court representation for homeowners facing repossession we know first-hand that many people don't attend their hearings.

"This could be for a variety of reasons. They may believe all is lost, they may think that they will be in an open court, they may be unable to afford legal representation.

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"However our experience is that attending repossession hearings can greatly increase the chances of saving the home.

"There are alternatives to repossession available to the courts and attending can make a real difference."

Of the 822 orders made in cases relating to mortgages in the first three months of this year, 65.9% resulted in people losing their properties, but in 28.7% possession decisions were suspended to allow mortgage holders time to repay debts.

Ms Toner added: "Repossession can happen to anyone, in the last three months Housing Right Service has seen a 30% increase in homeowners seeking assistance with mortgage debt compared with the same time last year.

"Our message today is for people experiencing difficulties to contact their lenders and get free independent advice soon as possible.

"The earlier contact is made the more possibilities are available.

"However even at court there are options, so it is vital that people attend their hearings. It really is never too late to get help."

The Housing Rights Service was established in 1964 and is billed as the leading specialist provider of independent housing advice in Northern Ireland.

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