The UK debt management agency Step Change will launch its services in Ireland by April, the Irish Examiner has learned.
The agency has been in talks with the Central Bank, the Irish Banking Federation, and the domestic banks over the past few months and is now in advanced stages of making an entry in the Irish market.
“We are in discussions with the Irish banks about the potential for providing a service for indebted people in Ireland,” said a spokesperson for the company. “However, the discussions are very much ongoing, and therefore we are not yet in a position to discuss possible timings of any scheme that may go ahead.”
However, a person familiar with the situation said the agency should be in a position to take on its first cases by the end of March or the beginning of April.
Step Change is a registered charity and does not need regulatory approval from the Central Bank to offer its services in the Republic. It provided consultation services to the Central Bank in 2013 on the pilot scheme for consumer multi-debt restructuring.
It is believed that, since then, the Central Bank has been keen for Step Change to roll out its services here.
The agency is one of the largest debt management firms in the UK with offices in several of the main cities and in the North. It dealt with over half a million distressed borrowers last year.
According to the latest Central Bank figures, there was a total of 117,889 mortgage-holders in arrears at the end of the third quarter last year, which is 15.5% of all mortgages outstanding. Of these, 84,955 are in arrears over 90 days.
People in arrears currently have the option of going to the Insolvency Service of Ireland; MABS [money advice & budgeting service]; deal directly with the banks or use voluntary organisations such as the Irish Mortgage Holders Association or New Beginning.
The domestic banks have been given mortgage arrears resolution targets by the Central Bank.
The Central Bank has recently sent inspection teams into the banks to ensure that they are agreeing sustainable restructuring solutions with customers.
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