Tuesday 9th September 2013
Struggling Irish homeowners told to sell house/home or face legal action
PERMANENT TSB is under fire over a sharp rise in cases where the bank has told struggling homeowners that surrendering their house is the best way to sort out their mortgage arrears.
And the Irish Independent has learned that any borrower who turns down the “voluntary sale” option faces immediate legal action by the bank to recover the property.
State-owned Permanent TSB is the latest lender criticised after figures from across all the banks revealed that a majority of solutions being offered by banks to customers in arrears involve the loss of their family homes.
Yesterday, the bank said it had recommended “assisted voluntary sales” deals to 2,000 customers, who in some cases are as little as €300 behind on repayments, the joint Oireachtas Finance Committee heard.
But fewer than 100 customers have taken the bank up on that proposal, the Irish Independent has learned.
However, for those who turn the bank down, the options are stark. The bank gives homeowners 90 days to decide whether to accept the offer. If they refuse or if they do not respond, Permanent TSB will then initiate legal proceedings that could ultimately see the house repossessed anyway.
By the start of this week, the bank had recommended the “assisted voluntary sales” to 2,000 customers who are behind on their home loan, chief executive of Permanent TSB Jeremy Masding said.
The figure is up from 1,000 at the end of June.
When a house is sold, the borrower is still liable for any shortfall on their mortgage, but the bank said it will look at each situation on a case-by-case basis and may write-off debt at the end of a sale process.
Mr Masding was the last of the heads of the four main banks to be grilled by the Finance Committee this week about progress to meet a target set by the Central Bank.
Banks were told to offer a debt deal to 20pc of customers in long-term arrears by the end of June, rising to 30pc by the end of this month and 50pc by the end of the year.
Mr Masding said Permanent TSB met the June target.
Out of 25,000 customer accounts in deep arrears, the bank offered a long-term restructuring such as split mortgage, interest-only arrangement or loan extension to 2,750 homeowners by the deadline, he said.
Another 1,500 homeowners have been offered short-term arrangements, he said.
More controversially, the bank said 800 of those in long-term arrears were offered the “voluntary sale” option by the June deadline, and 1,600 arrears cases are now being handled by lawyers acting for the bank.
He noted a sharp rise in the number of those offers since June, and the fact that the bank’s own data shows the option of selling their home is beingrecommended even to people in short-term arrears.
He was backed by Sinn Fein‘s Pearse Doherty who said the bank is pushing the house sale option even to people who have been working with the lender, and in at least one case, are less than one month behind in repayments.
Independent TD Stephen Donnelly said a struggling couple came to him after being told by Permanent TSB to default on a credit union loan that is helping pay for a degree course to prioritise their mortgage.
Mr Masding defended that decision and the recommendation that families should sell unaffordable houses, saying in some cases short-term moratoriums have been exhausted even if people are not in deep arrears.
Solvency expert apologises over radio comments on PAYE workers
A LEADING financial expert has apologised after he appeared to suggest hospital consultants and solicitors are entitled to live in bigger houses because of their “professional status” – even if they are insolvent.
Jim Stafford, one of the country’s first ever Personal Insolvency Practitioners, was speaking on how a major part of the new PIP legislation is to try to keep the family in the family home if possible.
And he said the level of professional status would play a large part in how this argument would play out.
“I would be making a very strong case, for example, that a solicitor should have a bigger house that accords with his professional status in society so that his neighbours and clients can see that, yes, this person is a good solicitor who’s is living in a good house,” he said on RTE Radio.
In January 2012, the Government approved the Personal Insolvency Bill in a reform of the existing bankruptcy process.
Under new arrangements, eligible applicants are to be provided with better alternatives to declaring bankruptcy. These include Personal Insolvency Arrangements (PIA); Debt Settlement Arrangements (DSA), and Debt Relief Notices (DRN), allowing for the write down or restructuring of both secured and unsecured debt owed.
“In practice, the PIP will also have to assess the type of house that might be needed for a professional person such as a solicitor, accountant or a hospital consultant as opposed to a house that’s needed by someone who is in the PAYE sector for example,” he said.
Mary Wilson reacted with some surprise to the suggestion: “Well, he may need an office, but he hardly needs a palatial house in South County Dublin,” she said.
But Mr Stafford stuck with his argument.
“Believe me, the clients who we have on our books are insisting they continue to stay in their palatial houses, now, it’s possible that some of them might have to down trade, but that all goes into the pot and at the end of the day the banks, the creditors have to agree to that process,” responds Mr Stafford.
However this evening Mr Stafford issued an apology on his website.
“I would like to acknowledge and sincerely apologise for the hurt and distress that my comments to RTE have undoubtedly caused.
“Simply it was not my intention to offend.
“In particular, it was not my intention to create a distinction between so called professional classes and PAYE workers nor appear to further the causes of a particular debtor type.
“I believe that every person has a passionate concern to retain their family home.
“I fully appreciate the distress that financial difficulties cause any one, no matter what their financial circumstances may be.
“I fully and unreservedly apologise for my comments.
Speed-limit blunder sees 1,306 drivers get points struck off
* Restrictions deemed illegal
* €104,480 in fines scrapped
MORE than 1,300 motorists have had their penalty points struck off and fines repaid because of a blunder.
The speed cameras that caught the motorists at four separate locations on seven different occasions were positioned in zones with reduced speed limits because of roadworks.
The special speed limits set in these areas had been decided upon by gardai.
However, a special order is then needed from local authorities in order to make the new speed limit lawful – and in these cases, the order wasn’t made.
It is not known if permission had been sought for the orders or if they were refused, but without the order being signed into place, the new limits were illegal.
As a result, the 1,306 motorists who were cited by speed cameras between January 26 and April 18 of this year have had the penalty points that they were issued revoked from their licences, and fines that they paid reimbursed.
The fines had the potential to generate €104,480 in revenue for the State.
Gardai confirmed the blunder and said it had come to light after a routine review.
“Following a routine review by the Regional Traffic Division in Dublin Castle, an issue with a specific set of fixed charge penalty notices was identified,” a statement read.
The incidents occurred in Dublin – at Coldwinters on the N2 on January 10, 17 and 28; and at Castleknock on the N3 on January 26 and February 13.
The mistake was then repeated on two occasions on April 9 and 18 on the N3 at Mulhuddart.
It is not known what decreased speed limit was supposed to be implemented as it changed on various dates and on various sections of the roads.
The garda statement also said that “a letter was posted to all 1,306 cases on September 5”.
And in another embarrassing error made by gardai, the cheques that were issued refunding the fines are now being recalled, as the statement also revealed “the refund cheque issued has an administrative error on it”.
They are today sending out further letters to those affected requesting that the cheques be returned and promising that a replacement will be issued in due course.
Gardai also said that they “wish to apologise to those affected for the inconvenience”.
LOOPHOLE: If caught speeding, a motorist is subject to payment of a fine of €80, and will have two penalty points imposed upon their licence. If this fine is not paid within 28 days, it is increased to €120.
If there is no payment made after a further 28 days, the motorist could be facing four penalty points and a fine of up to €800 if found guilty of non-payment in court.
Since the introduction of the speed-camera zones, road deaths have fallen to record lows, with 162 deaths on our roads in 2012, compared to 212 in 2010.
The privately operated speeding cameras administered by ‘GoSafe’ were first rolled out in 2010.
Earlier this year, additional speed-camera zones were announced, bringing the total of speed traps in the country to 727 – covering a total of 2,354km of our road network.
This is not the first time that an error on the State’s behalf has allowed drivers to avoid penalty points.
A legal loophole, which was not addressed until last year, allowed more than 85,000 drivers to avoid penalty points.
Motorists opted not to pay their fines initially, and chose to fight their cases in court as they were not required to bring their driving licences to court, meaning that the court clerk could not impose penalty points upon them
Prostate tests on 13,000 men have to be re-checked
HOSPITAL tests carried out on more than 13,000 men for possible prostate cancer are being re-checked amid fears they received the wrong result.
The review is underway in Connolly Hospital in Dublin and Mayo General Hospital after the men had blood tests for a chemical to see if their prostate gland was potentially enlarged or cancerous.
The re-check was ordered after an international recall of a faulty Siemen’s testing kit which measures if elevated levels of Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) are present in the blood.
The faulty kit, recalled in July, could have given a reading which was 20pc to 23pc higher than similar tests, resulting in the patient undergoing an unnecessary biopsy.
A spokewoman for Connolly Hospital said the kits were used on 2,186 patients between February and June. Of these, 162 received a result which “may have indicated a need for further investigation,” she said.
Five have so far had biopsies and three were found to have prostate cancer of varying degrees.
A spokesman for Mayo General Hospital said it used the kits between July 6, 2012 and June 25, 2013. As a precautionary step, the hospital will review all 12,866 tests carried out during that time.
The review will try to establish how many had an elevated reading to determine if any further actions are necessary, he added. Both hospitals defended their handling of the issue despite question marks over why they had not acted sooner to alert patients.
Connolly Hospital said on July 1 last, it wrote to all GPs and urologists informing them of the recall. The letter included each GP’s individual patients’ results and advised re-testing was available if required.
“GPs and specialists were then in a position to inform patients and make a clinical decision on a need for follow-up. Following this correspondence, four contacts were made for additional re-testing,” she said.
“This incident, which is outside HSE control, is considered to be of low clinical risk in relation to long-term negative outcome for patients,” she added.
Mayo General Hospital said since June 26 it “attached a comment to all new PSA results informing doctors a new method was now being used” and alerted them to the chance of a higher than normal result.
“In addition Mayo General Hospital is in the process of contacting all doctors who requested this test during those dates, advising about field notice and offering to re-test any patients,” he said.
Bob Geldof to be first Irishman in space next year
Bob Geldof is going into space as a passenger on a commercial flight.
The singer was offered the trip after his band, the Boomtown Rats, agreed to play a concert at a charity ball at the Natural History Museum, London, where seats on the flight will be auctioned off for good causes.
He said: “Being the first Irishman in space is not only a fantastic honour but pretty mind-blowing…The First Rock Astronaut – Space Rat! Elvis may have left the building but Bob Geldof will have left the planet! Wild!
“Who would have thought it possible in my lifetime? I will be joined by a couple of fellow astronauts who will bid to participate in this extraordinary adventure on this amazing night.”
The flights, which are scheduled for 2015, will be auctioned at the high-society event next month along with a diamond-encrusted watch and a car ride with former Formula One drivers.