A 17-fold increase in the number of house repossession applications in Clare, rising from seven to 120, over the last 12 months has been described as "startling" by a local deputy.
The Court Service confirmed 11 orders for house possession were granted last September compared to none in September 2013.
At least one of these 11 orders was granted by consent, while more than 33 of the current civil bills for possession are first-time applications as cases can be adjourned for a number of times before they are brought for a full hearing.
Clare MABS adviser Liam O’Connell, also a solicitor, said the decision to close a legal loophole last year, following a High Court case involving Start Mortgages versus Gunn, made it easier for lenders to repossess properties. He said there was also an increasing trend where banks deem mortgages to be unsustainable.
Mairéad Doyle, a solicitor with Michael Houlihan and Partners who also works for the Free Legal Advice Clinic, said the courts give as much leeway as possible to owner occupiers, particularly those with children.
This was in contrast to buy-to-let or vacant properties, where orders for possession were usually made much quicker.
Ms Doyle said: “There is still a lot of people coming into FLAC worried and concerned about mortgage arrears, and if they move into rented accommodation what will they do with their property? Will they hand back their keys?
“There is a still a lot of fear out there. People should be aware if they make an effort to make repayments, the court will give them an opportunity to deal with it. Even if repossession proceedings are issued against a person, the court will very often grant an adjournment to see if a settlement can be reached.
“It is very upsetting for people with children. It has a huge affect on relationships and mental health because of the pressures people are under. A lot of people in serious financial difficult are self-employed people, some of whom were involved in construction, which collapsed.
“The court will not make a final order for possession for owner-occupier dwellings until all avenues have been exhausted.”
Ms Doyle advised anyone with serious mortgage arrears not to ignore court proceedings but to seek help to deal with their difficulties as quickly as possible.
She confirmed the number of people seeking help from FLAC had increased substantially over the last year. In a number of cases, she said a judge had dismissed civil bills for possession when he felt banks had not dealt fairly with borrowers by failing to adhere to their own procedures.
If a person decides to hand back their home, Ms Doyle said, a bank could agree not to pursue a borrower for arrears as part of a settlement.
Local Fianna Fáil TD Timmy Dooley said the number of civil bills for possession are a damning “indictment” of the Government’s decision to introduce legislation that makes it much easier for banks to start proceedings to evict people from their homes in much larger numbers.
“The taxpayer bailed out the banks and gave them much longer time to pay their debts,” he said. “There is no such latitude given to home owners in this instance.”
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