Eleven per cent of mortgages in Donegal are in arrears, according to figures from the Central Bank.
The news comes after a communications campaign was launched to promote Abhaile, a free mortgage arrears support service administered by the Money Advice and Budgeting Service (Mabs).
A new study conducted by the Citizens Information Board (CIB) found that nearly 66 per cent of people are not aware that there are free support services available to homeowners who are in mortgage arrears.
“The service is up and running for some months now and about 5,000 people already have accessed the service nationally,” Michael Culloty, national development officer for social policy and media at Mabs, said.
He said, “The extent of the problem is estimated at over 30,000 people in mortgage arrears of two years or more, and many of those are not interfacing with their creditors or turning up for repossession hearings.” He said overall there are about 90,000 people in arrears nationally.
Abhaile gives people in serious arrears access to a dedicated mortgage advisor who will work with them through the process and the scheme also offers, where required, free professional legal and financial advice.
They are encouraging people in mortgage distress to appear in court when summoned, and not to ignore communications from their creditors or the court. Abhaile also has court mentors and a duty solicitor at the courts.
“Our one objective is to try and keep people in their home. That is our primary objective,” Mr. Culloty said. “So why would you not gain access to a support with a dedicated mortgage advisor, free accountancy and free legal advice where required?”
He said people in mortgage distress “have nothing to lose and possibly everything to gain” by contacting the service.
Angela Black, chief executive of CIB, said the communications campaign has been developed with the distressed borrower in mind. “We now want to reach those who are still in the dark and unaware that this service is available to them,” she said.
“We are calling on members of the public nationwide to look out for family and friends who might appear fine on the surface but who are in fact struggling with mortgage arrears behind closed doors,” she said. “They may not realise they have this access to free expert financial and legal advice. Our communications campaign is designed with this in mind, with a distinct focus on the role family and friends can play in encouraging people to look for help.”
Anyone concerned about their mortgage arrears can contact Mabs by calling the national Helpline, 0761 07 2000, from 9am to 8pm, Monday through Friday. The service is free, confidential and independent.
“The first step is picking up the phone,” Ms. Black said.