Be Part of Team Sinn Féin

Become an Online Supporter

Ellis welcomes introduction of Family Home Protection Bill

3 February, 2012 - by Dessie Ellis TD


Sinn Féin Housing Spokesperson Dessie Ellis TD has welcomed the introduction of the Family Home Protection (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill to the Dáil today.

Deputy Ellis described the Bill as conservative in terms of the overall package of measures required to deal with home repossessions, negative equity and arrears.

Speaking in the Dáil this afternoon Deputy Ellis said:

“Sinn Féin welcomes this Family Home Protection Bill and we commend Deputy Stephen Donnelly for introducing it.

“The Bill itself is a conservative measure in terms of the overall package of mechanisms that are needed to address the problem of not only home repossessions, but arrears in general, and negative equity. If enacted it would allow a judge the authority to consider a range of factors when a lender is seeking repossession of a family home.

“170,000 people are in mortgage arrears of 90 days or more. That’s 8.1% of every mortgage. That represents an almost 60% increase in two years. It is a scandal that this Government could go in and fight an election campaign, telling people that they would help them, and then almost a year later have done very little, aside from publishing one very long overdue scheme of a Personal Insolvency Bill.

“Even some of the moderate proposals of the Expert Group on Mortgage Arrears remain to be implemented, despite the growing numbers of arrears cases. One simple initiative that could be introduced tomorrow if the Government had the political will to do it, would be to ensure that assessment of housing need should not have to wait for legal proceedings for repossession to be brought against the borrower where a mortgage is clearly unsustainable. Furthermore, a mortgage to rent scheme could be introduced.

“Myself and my colleagues in Sinn Féin have been saying for years that the State’s social housing policy was completely flawed. I remember back in 2006, Arthur Morgan who was then TD for Louth speaking about how the State needed to address issues within housing policy and have plan to address negative equity – despite the fact house prices were still rocketing at this stage. The establishment parties said we were mad – and now look where we are.”

Full text of Deputy Ellis’ speech follows:


Speech on Family Home Protection (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2011

Sinn Féin welcomes this Family Home Protection Bill and we commend Deputy Stephen Donnelly for introducing it.

The Bill itself is a conservative measure in terms of the overall package of mechanisms that are needed to address the problem of not only home repossessions, but arrears in general, and negative equity. If enacted it would allow a judge the authority to consider a range of factors when a lender is seeking repossession of a family home.

Under the current legal framework, where a person is in any arrears and the lender seeks repossession, the Court must comply with the request, regardless of any other factors that they may wish to consider. It does not matter whether this loan was given irresponsibly in the first place, whether any reasonable person or institution would have looked at the borrower’s financial circumstance and thought that they would never be able to repay that loan. It does not matter whether the lender complied with the Code of Conduct on Mortgage Arrears or whether the lender has had any interaction whatsoever with the borrower in terms of trying to help them keep their home, or how much they owe on their home loan or whether they would perhaps in the future be able to pay this off.

Not all lenders take that attitude, but I am sure there are members of the judiciary who preside over repossession cases that only wish they could turn back the clock and ensure that the likes of Start Mortgages, notorious for issuing repossession proceedings, never existed. While not all lenders are out to get the borrowers – and one can’t help but think that this is because the banks can’t sell repossessed properties even if they want to – we should all take careful note of the actions of banks which lead people not being able to keep up their mortgage repayments due to repeated increases in interest rates of variable rate mortgages.

I want to take the opportunity while speaking to place this Bill within the broader issue of the right to housing in relation to over-indebtedness. This State never incorporated the right to housing in to its domestic legislative framework. Not only that, but it also opted out of Article 31 of the European Social Charter which affords the right to housing. We have an out-of-date legal system that is not fit to deal with or provide adequate solutions to, the problems of our time.

While some people went crazy borrowing, the Government down through the years allowed a culture of consumer-borrowing to develop on a property market built on sand. This over-borrowing, in tandem with banks throwing money at people like there was no tomorrow brought us to the catastrophic level of insolvent customers and mortgage arrears, voluntary surrendering of homes and house repossessions.

170,000 people are in mortgage arrears of 90 days or more. That’s 8.1% of every mortgage. That represents an almost 60% increase in two years. It is a scandal that this Government could go in and fight an election campaign, telling people that they would help them, and then almost a year later have done very little, aside from publishing one very long overdue scheme of a Personal Insolvency Bill.

Even some of the moderate proposals of the Expert Group on Mortgage Arrears remain to be implemented, despite the growing numbers of arrears cases. One simple initiative that could be introduced tomorrow if the Government had the political will to do it, would be to ensure that assessment of housing need should not have to wait for legal proceedings for repossession to be brought against the borrower where a mortgage is clearly unsustainable. Furthermore, a mortgage to rent scheme could be introduced.

Myself and my colleagues in Sinn Féin have been saying for years that the State’s social housing policy was completely flawed. I remember back in 2006, Arthur Morgan who was then TD for Louth speaking about how the State needed to address issues within housing policy and have plan to address negative equity – despite the fact house prices were still rocketing at this stage. The establishment parties said we were mad – and now look where we are.

People are left in terrible situations without access to appropriate housing supports due to difficulties of over-indebtedness and unemployment sometimes leading to family breakdown. Families are caught in a horrible situation where they may be in arrears but possibly have a chance in the future to repay their mortgage, but the court is compelled to repossess their home – then they cannot become eligible for housing supports until their home is ordered as repossessed by the courts.

Yet, still the Government cut the budget available for social housing support on an annual basis.

It is clear that the State must put in place appropriate policies and supports to ensure that those at risk of homelessness because of over-indebtedness or unsustainable mortgages have access to supports which would permit them to remain in their homes or access suitable alternative accommodation.

This Bill may be a fairly conventional mechanism, but it is merely one of a range of options that should be introduced. It would have some small impact on rebalancing the law where a borrower has no right to appeal to the Court to be allowed to retain their home. I do not subscribe to the view that absolutely everyone needs to own their own home. Housing policy in general should be reoriented towards the public provision of social housing – and I do not mean the ghetto council housing of the past, but a new and better form of social housing.

In saying that, it is clear that this does not exist at the moment, and Fine Gael and the Labour Party, given their apparent hatred of having the State provide any kind of service people, let alone go so far as to say sometime like housing is a right – means they are ideologically prevented from ever bringing in a newer, better, housing policy.

We must be real and acknowledge this, so where the State is unwilling to provide social housing for a population, they must be enabled to retain their homes where possible. The State facilitated their entry in to over-indebtedness and unemployment. The State now has a responsibility to facilitate their entry out of it.

This Bill would have the effect of allowing the Court to consider all of these factors when a repossession application is being heard.

This will not have any impact on the Personal Insolvency legislation once it is introduced. As I said last week, publishing the Scheme of the Bill was an important step in the move towards publishing legislation on personal insolvency which is long overdue.

Many people’s large personal debt is due to not being able to service the mortgage on the family home, so we hope that this will be one part of a range of measures designed to address these issues.

I will be calling upon the minister to take on board the concerns of members of the public and civil society bodies working in this area as well. It is absolutely essential that the timeframe indicated by the minister is held to. We cannot continue to put off addressing the problems of those who cannot meet their mortgage commitments and are facing mountains of debt.

ENDS

Videos

Peace and Reconciliation discussed at Féile


Photos

Mary Lou McDonald TD