Four mortgage holders a day lose their home

More than four mortgage holders lost their home each day in the three months to the end of September.

Data from the Central Bank show 421 homeowners either volunteered or were forced to hand over the keys to their property in the third quarter.

A total of 141 owner-occupier properties were repossessed by court order and the remaining 280 were voluntarily surrendered or abandoned.

A number of bodies, including the Economic and Social Research Institute, the Central Bank and, most recently, the European Central Bank (ECB), have highlighted the relatively low level of repossessions in Ireland.

Mario Draghi, president of the ECB, said last month that the inability of Irish banks to repossess homes on the scale in other European countries was one of the main reasons why standard variable rates were higher in Ireland.

There were 1,678 properties in banks’ possession at the beginning of the third quarter.

The Central Bank figures also showed that 43 per cent of owner-occupier mortgage holders in arrears were at least two years behind on their repayments.

A total of 79,562 family home mortgages were in arrears at the end of September, of which 34,551 were in the most serious category of arrears of 720 days or more.

There was a marginal decrease in the number of borrowers in arrears of more than 720 days with 429 mortgage accounts moving out of this classification in the third quarter; a decline of 2.3 per cent on the previous quarter.

The overall number of homeowners in arrears also declined, by 2,530, but 56,350 remained in arrears of more than 90 days. This represented a quarterly decline of 2.1 per cent of mortgage loans in arrears of three months or more.

More than 10,000 owner-occupier mortgages were held by unregulated loan owners, commonly referred to as vulture funds.

Bernard Sheridan, director of consumer protection at the Central Bank, has said that the regulator was particularly concerned about this cohort of loan owners.

While there was no evidence of vulture funds raising interest rates on the thousands of loans they have acquired from traditional lenders, he has warned that the Central Bank would be powerless to prevent any such moves.

Michael McGrath, the Fianna Fail finance spokesman, welcomed the overall reduction in mortgage arrears but expressed concern over the high level of arrears among borrowers whose loans were owned by vulture funds.

“One of the most alarming aspects in today’s figures lies in the arrears rate among mortgages held by subprime lenders and mortgage funds. The typical restructure options used by banks are not being used to the same effect among [these loans owners] and you would have to fear for mortgage holders in this situation.

“Vulture funds now own about 10,000 family home mortgages. Of the total mortgage book of €1.9 billion, mortgages worth some €1.3 billion are in arrears. This underlines the scale of this problem.

“These funds are generally not directly regulated by the Central Bank. The borrower’s contact is with an intermediary who does not make the final decision regarding a restructure proposal or whether to commence repossession proceedings.”

So-called non-bank entities held 45,678 mortgage accounts for primary-dwelling homes and buy-to-let properties combined. About 70 per cent were held by regulated companies.

The number of owner-occupier loans in arrears of more than two years was significantly higher among non-regulated companies, reflecting the poorer quality loan books they have acquired.

About 38 per cent of the owner-occupier loans owned by vulture funds were in arrears compared with 19 per cent of the home loans held by regulated credit retail companies.