Thursday, 3 October 2019

Questions (101)

Róisín Shortall

Question:

101. Deputy Róisín Shortall asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the number of legal aid applications made for mortgage possession cases; the number of applications which were received by the Legal Aid Board; the number of applications which were granted; the figures in each of the years 2005 to 2018 and to date in 2019; the means threshold; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40182/19]

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Written answers (Question to Justice)

As requested by the Deputy, the following table contains the number of financially eligible applications for legal services received by the Legal Aid Board where the applicant was in potential danger of losing their family home, and the number of cases where legal aid was granted in connection with the defence of possession proceedings, in each of the years in the period 2014-2018 and to date in 2019 (as at 1st October 2019).

 

Number of applications received

Number of applications where legal aid granted

2019 to date

24

8

2018

37

7

2017

35

6

2016

66

6

2015

108

9

2014

59

7

Comparable data is not readily available for the period prior to 1st January 2014, because the Legal Aid Board did not categorise applications for legal aid with respect possession proceedings separately from “other non-family law” applications during this period.

I want to reiterate the Government’s commitment to providing assistance to persons who may be in danger of losing their home. The Deputy will be aware that insolvent persons seeking legal advice and assistance in relation to repossession proceedings against their home may be able to avail of such advice through the Abhaile scheme.  This free mortgage arrears support service was launched by the Government in October 2016.

Abhaile is not focused on bringing challenges to repossession proceedings because in most cases this will not help the borrower. Instead, Abhaile focuses on solving the borrower’s substantive problem, by putting in place a solution to the arrears themselves, keeping the borrower in their home and helping them back to solvency. 

In relation to the focus of the Deputy's question on legal aid applications, it is possible to apply for legal aid from the Legal Aid Board to defend repossession proceedings under the normal rules relating to civil legal aid. Borrowers who wish to do this must meet the financial eligibility and merits criteria prescribed under the Civil Legal Aid Act 1995 and the Civil Legal Aid Regulations 1996 to 2017.  The principal financial eligibility criteria are that the applicant must have disposable income of less than €18,000 per annum and disposable capital assets of less than €100,000 (excluding the home in which they live). 

In the past, it may have been difficult for applications for legal aid in connection with defending repossession proceedings to satisfy the merits criteria for civil legal aid in circumstances where the applicant accepts that the debt (i.e. the unpaid home loan) is owed to the Plaintiff lending institution and falls due to be paid and there is no legal defence available. The Deputy will be aware of the added protections conferred under the recently enacted Land and Conveyancing Law Reform (Amendment) Act 2019, however, it remains to be seen how the courts will interpret the new legislation.

Under Abhaile, by contrast, the borrower can obtain free independent financial advice and negotiation assistance from a Personal Insolvency Practitioner, a MABS Dedicated Mortgage Arrears adviser, and/or an accountant. The service includes detailed analysis of the borrower’s individual financial situation and home mortgage arrears, identifying their best option to resolve their arrears with priority given to remaining in their home wherever possible, and negotiation assistance to put a solution into place.  

Since the Abhaile service began in July 2016 and, as of 23rd September 2019, 3,763 vouchers for a legal advice consultation in relation to potential solutions to mortgage arrears (which may include advice in relation to the defence of possession proceedings) have been issued. A duty solicitor service is in place at county registrars’ courts for repossession proceedings and almost 8,000 people have availed of that service. It is important to note that persons availing of the Abhaile service do not have to meet any financial eligibility criteria, save that they are insolvent and at risk of losing their home, nor do they have to pay a contribution.  This is a far more sustainable and effective focus for public intervention – both more effective for borrowers, and better for taxpayers.