I propose to take Questions Nos. 78 and 119 together.
The 2011 Keane Report on mortgage arrears identified personal insolvency reform, and in particular the introduction of new and more accessible debt resolution mechanisms, as a central catalyst for the resolution of the mortgage arrears problem. Indeed, it went as far as stating that, without effective bankruptcy legislation, the mortgage arrears problem will not be resolved. The Government has accepted the need for fundamental reform in this area and the new debt settlement frameworks as provided for in the 2012 Personal Insolvency Act will very soon be available to debtors.
However, the Government also accepts that personal insolvency reform on its own is not a sufficient response to deal with the problem. Other initiatives and measures are also required and are being implemented in tandem with personal insolvency reform. These include:-
- With Central Bank oversight, the development of mortgage arrears resolution strategies by mortgage lenders and the subsequent setting of performance targets for the main banks to require them to implement these strategies and, in particular, to propose sustainable solutions to their customers who are in mortgage difficulty. Associated with this is the recent Code of Conduct on Mortgage Arrears changes which seek to ensure an appropriate resolution of each case of mortgage difficulty and to require lenders to explore all meaningful alternative repayment arrangements offered by the lender for co-operating borrowers.
- The provision of general and, where appropriate, more targeted information and advice to mortgage holders which is free to the users of the service.
- The development of a "mortgage to rent" scheme as a social housing response to eligible households to allow them remain in their home.
The necessary overall strategy and building blocks to address the mortgage arrears problem are, therefore, now in place. These include the Central Bank targets initiative, the new Code of Conduct on Mortgage Arrears, the fundamental change to personal insolvency legislation including the provision of new, more accessible and less penal resolution mechanisms to debtors and a comprehensive mortgage information and advice service.
The onus is now on lenders to move to address individual arrears cases in a comprehensive and speedy manner. Therefore, I expect the banks to increase the number of “split mortgage” and the other long term restructured mortgage arrangements put in place over the remainder of this year.
As part of the process banks are requested to make regular returns to the Central Bank on their performance against the targets and the Central Bank will audit the performance of the lenders in this regard. I can assure the Deputy that, both my Department and I will keep in close liaison with the Central Bank and individual banks on this important issue.