No decisions made on Keane report

Minster for Social Protection Joan Burton has insisted the Government is moving as fast as it can to implement proposals contained…

Minster for Social Protection Joan Burton has insisted the Government is moving as fast as it can to implement proposals contained in a major mortgage arrears report.

However, she admitted that no decisions on the proposals in the Keane report published nearly a month ago have been made.

She said the adoption of many of the proposed reforms will have to wait until legislative changes to the personal insolvency laws come into force next year.

Ms Burton was addressing a seminar on aspects of the Interdepartmental Mortgage Arrears Working Group chaired by Declan Keane. Among the proposals was the introduction of two "mortgage to rent" social housing schemes which would see approved housing agencies taking ownership of homes in specific circumstances or the leasing of houses by banks to local authorities, which would in turn rent them to former owners.

It also recommended curtailing the mortgage interest supplement and replacing it with more sustainable solution and the provision of an independent mortgage advice function to advise and support mortgage holders in assessing their options and to build trust in the debt resolution process

She said her department was spending about €77 million a year on the supplement and subsidising the mortgages of more than 18,500 struggling borrowers. "We are picking up the tab for a share of those borrowers' debt burden, and the money we pay goes directly to the banks. We also spend more than €500 million a year on rent supplements for 100,000 people who cannot afford to house themselves," she said.

The Minister said the personal insolvency issue was central and would be "the most challenging piece of legislation" to come before the Dáil. She could not give a time frame when the legislation would be ready other than to say that Minister for Justice Alan Shatter was "working flat out on it" and it would be done "as soon as possible".

She said the reform of personal insolvency legislation was "key to resolving the mortgage arrears and personal debt problems" and that it "would force banks to the negotiating table, allowing both sides to reach a settlement."

She said the personal debt mountain that many people faced, both from unsustainable mortgages and unsecured credit union and credit card debt, was a problem that needed to be tackled urgently. "The thing that is different about this recession is that it is not just about high unemployment but also about the high personal debt burden that many citizens are shouldering. This is preventing people becoming economically active," she said.