Northern Ireland

Call for banks to offer more help for those facing negative equity

Mortgage application form
Image caption Northern Ireland suffered a huge housing bubble in the 2000s followed by a crash in 2008 that saw prices fall by almost 50%

Banks could do more to help mortgage customers who are in negative equity or facing repossession, a Stormont-backed taskforce has recommended.

The taskforce has been examining the high levels of negative equity and repossessions in Northern Ireland.

It does not recommend debt forgiveness but says banks could do more to prevent repossessions.

It also says mortgage advice services should receive more funding and be better targeted.

Northern Ireland suffered a huge housing bubble in the 2000s followed by a crash in 2008 that saw prices fall by almost 50%.

As a consequence, rates of negative equity are much worse than elsewhere in the UK and repossessions have also increased.

The taskforce has warned that the number of people falling behind on their mortgage payments could increase when interest rates eventually begin to rise.

It assesses that the number of very high risk borrowers could more than double from 15,000 in 2014 to 32,000 in 2018.

The main advice body, the Mortgage Debt Advice Service, currently deals with around 1,600 cases a year, but under the proposals its workload would at least double.

The service's budget is rising from £225,000 to £340,000 next year but under the taskforce's plan it should rise again.

Many of the new cases would be dealt with an earlier stage and would therefore involve less complex issues.

The taskforce recommends that establishment of a mortgage option hub which would refocus the current range of advice services, which it says can be confusing.

Recommendations for the banks include greater use of Assisted Voluntary Sales (AVS) rather than repossessions.

In an AVS, the owner effectively sells the house on the bank's behalf and the bank keeps the sale proceeds.

The report also raises concerns about banks selling repossessed houses at auctions.

Prices achieved at auctions are generally lower than a standard sale which leaves with the borrower with a bigger residual debt.

The taskforce estimates that repossessed properties sold between 2008 and 2013 only achieved 42% of the "true market value".

However, it does not make any recommendations about auctions.

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