Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Questions (241)

Stephen Donnelly


241. Deputy Stephen S. Donnelly asked the Minister for Finance in view of the banks' slow rate of progress in dealing with mortgage arrears and the potential delay to the personal insolvency service the actions he will take to encourage the banks to deal with borrowers in arrears; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8065/13]

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Written answers (Question to Finance)

The Government is aware of the significant difficulties some homeowners are facing in meeting their mortgage obligations and it is committed to advancing appropriate measures to assist those mortgage holders who are experiencing real and genuine difficulty. A special Government Sub-Committee is already in place since March last year to address the mortgage arrears problem. This Committee is chaired by An Taoiseach and includes all other relevant Ministers, and reflects the need for accelerated progress in this area. At official level, my Department is taking a lead role and in that context, a high level Steering Group, chaired by the Department's Secretary General, was established to drive the implementation of the recommendations contained in the Report of the Inter-Departmental Working Group on Mortgage Arrears (the 'Keane Report').

As the Deputy is aware, the Personal Insolvency Act is now in place and considerable work is now underway to shortly launch the Insolvency Service and to bring into operation the new insolvency frameworks provided for in that Act. This is a priority for Government and it is also receiving continuous and high level attention at the official high level Steering Group.

Aside from the formal legislative insolvency reforms, the Central Bank, under its MARS project, is also continuing to work intensively with lenders to ensure that they had robust mortgage strategies including a range of longer term options as recommended by the Keane Report, such as 'trade-down mortgages', 'split mortgages' and 'sale by agreement' or other appropriate options as may be developed by lenders. The focus of this work is now intensifying and will be on the implementation of these strategies, in particular on the delivery of durable restructuring arrangement to appropriate borrowers, and ensuring that banks have the operational capability to implement them effectively. The Deputy may also be aware of Governor Honohan's recent comments at the Central Bank’s Conference on 'How to Fix Distressed Property Markets' in which he said that the banks are much better staffed and organised for dealing with arrears, and that the Central Bank will be setting out its quantitative expectations for their effectiveness in achieving lasting solutions.

In addition, the Code of Conduct on Mortgage Arrears (CCMA) remains a key framework to govern the relationship between mortgage holders experiencing difficulty and their bank. The Central Bank has commenced a review of the Code and will shortly open a public consultation process on the review. The CCMA requires updating at this time due to the introduction of both the Personal Insolvency legislation and longer term mortgage resolution options. The review will also take into consideration recent developments that may be relevant to the issue of mortgage arrears and clarifications issued by the Central Bank since the current version was issued.

I wish to repeat that the Government is committed to intensifying its efforts to address the mortgage arrears problem and ensuring that both lenders and borrowers work together to deliver sustainable outcomes that is as fair as possible to all parties and respects the rights of both debtors and creditors.