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Early intervention needed to tackle repossession

Published: Fri, 13 Feb 2015
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The Housing Repossession Taskforce was established by the DSD
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A single point of contact for debt advice would better support borrowers to seek help at an early stage and help tackle the issue of housing repossession a dedicated taskforce has said today.
The Housing Repossession Taskforce, which was established in 2014 by the Department for Social Development, includes representatives from the advice sector, lenders, private landlords, professional bodies and the statutory sector.  The Taskforce was established to provide independent advice on the impact of mortgage repayment arrears, negative equity and repossessions in Northern Ireland.
In its final report the Taskforce made 20 recommendations, these include:
  • The establishment of a ‘Mortgage Options Hub’ for the delivery of specialist mortgage debt advice at an early stage.
  • Highlighting the free and independent channels of advice that can help borrowers take responsibility for improving their debt position.
  • Working with the Behavioural Insights Team to examine how behavioural economics can incentivise borrowers to seek help earlier.  
  • A review by lenders on how they communicate voluntary exits, including Assisted Voluntary Sale schemes, to support their customers.
  • Commissioning the Northern Ireland Federation of Housing Associations to complete a feasibility study on the potential for a Mortgage Rescue Scheme in Northern Ireland.
  • Timely assistance from the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, including a homelessness assessment for vulnerable households.
Commenting on the report’s recommendations, Social Development Minister, Mervyn Storey MLA, said: “Managing a crisis when a household reaches the cliff edge of repossession is complicated, expensive and distressing, and is unfortunately all too common in Northern Ireland.
“It is important that we challenge this current trend.  The first step in doing this is to ensure that people at risk of repossession seek advice and support at an early stage.
“Analysis from the Taskforce today found that the current picture of advice provision in Northern Ireland - with numerous agencies offering support - is confusing for individuals in need. The report, amongst many other recommendations, presents a clear case for developing a single point of initial contact on debt advice.  A key feature of this new debt advice landscape will be a Mortgage Options Hub. This hub will offer mortgage debt advice, coordinate the available options for households in distress, and better support lenders in meeting their responsibilities, including treating customers fairly.”
The Minister added: “It will be clear in some circumstances that exiting homeownership provides the best outcome for the borrower. This does not however always need to be through repossession. Other options that provide a planned transition out of homeownership are available.
“The Taskforce’s recommendations, particularly those which facilitate engagement at an early stage, can help affected and at-risk households secure an affordable and sustainable solution and that is what my Department and I are keen to strive towards.”
A Housing Repossessions Taskforce implementation team, led by the Department for Social Development, will be in place by March 2015 and its work will be completed by April 2016.  
Information on mortgage debt management is available at: