A key priority for the Government and the Central Bank is ensuring that the interests of consumers of financial services are protected. A key element of the Central Bank’s role is ensuring that the consumer protection regulatory framework is fit for purpose and ensures that consumers best interests are protected.
Within the remit of the Central Bank’s responsibilities for safeguarding stability and protecting consumers, its approach to mortgage arrears resolution is focussed on ensuring the fair treatment of borrowers. This is realised through a strong consumer protection framework and ensuring that lenders have appropriate arrears resolution strategies and operations in place.
The Code of Conduct on Mortgage Arrears (CCMA) forms part of the Central Bank’s Consumer Protection Framework. It is a statutory Code first introduced by the Central Bank in February 2009, with the current CCMA becoming effective from 1 July 2013. The CCMA provides a strong consumer protection framework, aimed specifically at the process to be followed by relevant firms, to ensure borrowers in arrears or pre-arrears in respect of a mortgage loan secured on a primary residence are treated in a timely, transparent and fair manner.
Banks, retail credit firms and credit servicing firms servicing loans on behalf of unregulated loan owners are all required to comply with the CCMA. The overriding objective of the CCMA is to ensure the fair and transparent treatment of consumers in mortgage arrears or pre-arrears, and that there is due regard to the fact that each case of mortgage arrears is unique and needs to be considered on its own merits. The CCMA recognises that it is in the interests of borrowers and regulated firms to address financial difficulties as speedily, effectively and sympathetically as circumstances allow. It sets out the Mortgage Arrears Resolution Process (MARP), a four-step process that regulated entities must follow:
Step 1: Communicate with borrower;
Step 2: Gather financial information;
Step 3: Assess the borrower’s circumstances; and
Step 4: Propose a resolution
Each regulated entity must consider the borrower’s situation in the context of the solutions they provide, which may differ from firm to firm. The CCMA does not prescribe the solution which must be offered.
In relation to the Deputy's question about formulating a new code of conduct to regulate repossessions, already under the CCMA a regulated entity may only commence legal proceedings for repossession where it has made every reasonable effort to agree an alternative repayment arrangement (ARA) with the borrowers and other clear requirements are met or the borrower has been classified as not co-operating. This framework requires lenders to exhaust the options available from the suite of ARAs offered before taking action which may result in the borrower losing his/her home (whether by voluntary sale or repossession). During the legal process, borrowers have opportunities to re-engage with lenders to find a solution. In some circumstances, however, loss of ownership may be unavoidable.
As you will recall, earlier this year, I asked the Governor of the Central Bank to review the CCMA to ensure that it continues to be effective in the context of loan sales. The Central Bank submitted their Report to me at the end of last week and I intend to bring it to Government at our next Government meeting on 6 November 2018.