Northern Ireland

DSD has no plans to introduce mortgage rescue scheme

Image caption Tumbling house values mean that many people find themselves in a situation of negative equity.

The Housing Minister Nelson McCausland has said he has no plans to introduce a mortgage rescue scheme for homeowners facing repossession.

People who fall into mortgage arrears in the rest of the UK have access to interest-free loans and other initiatives.

The Department for Social Development said a local scheme would not help enough people.

It said it would also be too expensive to run.

Homeowners who get into difficulty in Northern Ireland do not have the same "safety nets" as their counterparts in Great Britain.

Mortgage rescue schemes are available in Scotland, England and Wales.

While they differ slightly, overall they aim to enable people to stay in their homes either as a social housing tenant or as a part-owner by retaining an equity share.

In England, the government recently allocated £20m to local authorities to be distributed as small interest-free loans of less than £5,000, to reduce or clear mortgage arrears.

The charity Housing Rights Service recently briefed the assembly's social development committee about the difficulties facing homeowners due to the recession, rising unemployment and changes to welfare benefits.

Collective action

Tumbling house values mean that many people find themselves in a situation of negative equity and can see no way of getting out of debt.

Janet Hunter, from the charity, said she is hopeful that the executive will take action.

""It's fair to say that the politicians share our concerns and they recognise the problems, because these are the problems that their own constituents are facing," she said.

Image caption Housing Rights Service director Janet Hunter said NI has the highest level of house repossession activity in the UK.

"But what we really need to see is some collective action on behalf of our executive here locally, and that is what we have been asking for."

The charity said it is busier than ever helping people facing repossession.

At the High Court in Belfast, in the six months between April and September 2010, mortgage lenders made more than 4,700 applications for enforcement of home repossession orders.

In the same period last year, this figure rose by over 1700 - a 37% increase.

And there was a surge in the actual number of cases that went as far as repossession - the total went up by almost 50% during the same period.

Ms Hunter said Northern Ireland has the highest level of house repossession activity anywhere in the UK.

"We are moving in a different direction. In England, Scotland and Wales they have seen a decrease in repossession, whereas we are having nearly a year-on-year increase," she said.

"We hope that the executive will take the opportunity in the programme for government to introduce initiatives here which would help to mitigate the impact for people here in Northern Ireland."

The Mortgage Debt Advice Service can be contacted on 0300 323 0310

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