Cantillon: Mortgage arrears issue set to get thorny
Central Bank targets for current quarter to feature ‘concluded’ cases for first time
Minister for Finance Michael Noonan: predicted March “tipping point” for mortgage arrears issue. Photograph: Reuters/Francois Lenoir
The Central Bank has delivered a “has proven ability, could try harder” report to the banks in its first public analysis of their efforts to tackle the undeniably difficult issue of mortgage arrears. Thus far, some 47,000 proposed solutions have been formulated, with roughly 35,000 of these relating to principal dwellings and the remainder to buy-to-let properties. All the loans in questions have seen no repayments for three months or more, leaving them in a distressed, red-flag category.
The most important thing to be taken from the data is that the banks have, as a group, met and exceeded official targets for putting solutions before borrowers who have found themselves in tough situations. It is also worth paying some attention to the Central Bank’s gently admonishing warnings, however – stop offering short-term solutions where long-term solutions are needed and please, oh please, make sure you have all the correct documentation before anybody signs any dotted lines.
This seems basic, but real-life cases are rarely simple. The thing to remember is that the world of mortgage arrears is about to become a lot more intense for the banks, with the Central Bank’s targets for the current quarter to feature, for the first time, “concluded” cases. By the end of the year, 15 per cent of 90-plus-days arrears cases must fall into this category.
Cases of personal insolvency, which have not featured to date, will help in meeting this target, but it could remain challenging.
It is possible that some lenders will have dealt with easier cases first, thus allowing them to meet the Central Bank’s initial targets without having tackled their most thorny mortgage accounts. This could, in theory, make it harder to reach set goals as time progresses.
In the same vein, making “proposals” on arrears could be as simple as sending a legal letter, whereas a “conclusion” could require considerably more strategic effort, particularly if borrowers prove unwilling to accept the initial plan.
All in all, it remains early days in the whole area, with Michael Noonan’s prediction yesterday of a March “tipping point” pointing to some challenging months for both banks and borrowers between now and then.