Data ruling may force vulture funds to reveal price they paid for mortgages
Ruling could allow homeowners find out what funds paid to buy their mortgages
Data Protection Commissioner Helen Dixon, who ruled that Nama must provide builders Michael and John O’Flynn with personal information it holds on them. Photograph: Cyril Byrne
A data-protection ruling involving State assets agency Nama could force vulture funds to tell homeowners how much they paid to buy their mortgages, one expert says.
Data Protection Commissioner Helen Dixon ruled this week that the agency had to provide builders Michael and John O’Flynn with personal information that it holds on the pair.
Solicitor Fred Logue, who specialises in data protection, believes Ms Dixon’s decision will allow homeowners whose mortgages are sold to vulture funds to find out how much the buyers paid for their debts.
Vulture funds do not tell consumers whose debts they buy how much they paid, but it is normally a large discount to the actual sum due.
Mr Logue pointed out that this issue has come up in a number of court cases where vulture fund were seeking to repossess homes from borrowers who had fallen behind with their repayments.
While the funds were seeking the full amounts due on the mortgages, they refused to reveal to the homeowners what they actually paid for them.
Mr Logue said that he has made five or six complaints to the Data Protection Commissioner on behalf of consumers in this situation.
He acknowledged that the ruling should allow other developers to demand that Nama give them the personal information that it holds on them, but pointed out that it should go further than this.
“The decision also applies to ordinary borrowers, consumers whose mortgages have been sold to vulture funds,” Mr Logue said. “It applies to any individual with a loan.”
Lender Permanent TSB plans to sell €3.7 billion worth of loans, including mortgages whose repayments are in arrears, and it is feared that the bank will offload them to a vulture fund.
The O’Flynns complained to Ms Dixon in 2015 after Nama gave them a limited response to a request for their personal data.
The agency maintained that the information was corporate rather than personal, as it related to the business and positions as directors of O’Flynn Construction. Ms Dixon found against this.
Mr Logue explained that the O’Flynns were aided by a European Court of Justice ruling against the Irish Data Protection Commissioner last December that had broadened the definition of personal data.
The case, taken by Peter Nowak, found that exam scripts were personal data. Mr Logue pointed out that the court ruled that the Irish authorities should interpret data protection law broadly rather than narrowly.
Nama took over the O’Flynn group’s €1.8 billion loans in 2010 and sold them for €1.1 billion to private equity investor, Blackstone, for €1.1 billion in 2013.
The brothers sought their data from Nama in September 2014 and complained to the commissioner the following November.
The State agency did not dispute the O’Flynns’ data protection rights. Instead it argued it was not obliged to provide information that was subject to legal privilege, could prejudice Nama’s interests or its ability to recover money.
Nama is considering Ms Dixon’s ruling and has almost three weeks in which to appeal it to the Circuit Court.
In a separate action, the O’Flynns are suing Nama because they believe its former employee Enda O’Farrell, who was convicted of leaking confidential agency information, passed some of their data to third parties.