Consumer Champion: Weighing up your options when it comes to staving off home repossession
With the new court term getting under way, expect home repossessions to ramp up. Around 7,000 cases are listed over the next 6-8 weeks and make up 90pc of circuit courts civil lists.
It's frightening to think your home could be taken from under you but, in reality, this is rare and always the very last step - judges are extremely wary about granting such orders. For example, in the first quarter of the year, 2,533 enforcement orders were taken by banks - but only 517 were granted.
Those houses that are taken are mainly houses with no payments made for a number of years, and whose owners hadn't engaged with any debt-management solutions. They include a number of buy-to-let investor properties rather than family homes.
By merely turning up in court, you can delay a repossession - so never stick your head in the sand.
However, of course, it shouldn't get that far. With the Insolvency Service now on track, more people are considering options when it comes to debt. There was a 25pc increase in arrangements agreed during April-June, compared to the first quarter of the year. There are four different types (see table), but essentially it depends on whether you just have unsecured debt (such as credit union, credit card, etc), or secured debt (ie a mortgage). The ISI agrees a debt write-off if it is simply unsustainable, and you might be astonished to learn that the average debt write-off for unsecured debt is a whopping 83.2pc! Even for those with a mortgage the average is 21pc, so it is definitely worth checking out.
However, a stumbling block still remains in finding a Personal Insolvency Practitioner (PIP). Although there are 142 registered, many may not take someone with no income stream. There is no State-provided service, which means they are all private operators and need to be paid.
The claim is that the money comes from the overall settling of your debts, but someone with no income and no worthwhile assets is not an attractive proposition.
A British charity, StepChange, will be appointed from next April to handle arrears cases for five banks funded by the institutions.
But if you find yourself in debt, do the following:
1 Add up everything you owe (loans, debts and bills) and calculate the income coming into your household.
2 If you have a mortgage, do not ignore letters from your lender. All are obliged, by law, to assist you in a debt solution. You will have to complete a Standard Financial Statements, but they must help you do so if needed.
If you are being hassled, find a PIP to deal with you - see the ISI site (www.isi.gov.ie). If you are a customer of AIB, KBC or EBS consider using David Hall's www.mortgageholders.ie, which provides a free service to those in arrears. It will see anyone, but has specific arrangements with those lenders.
3 If you have no mortgage, and limited income, go to the Money Advice and Budgeting Service. They can arrange debt relief notices, which are write-offs for those on their uppers. It's free (www.mabs.ie, Tel. 0761-072000).
The Insolvency Service is holding a roadshow offering private debt advice in Athlone next Saturday. Book a session, for free. There is a questionnaire to complete before you go, but it's confidential.
Book at www.backontrack.ie or call 0761-06 4200.
There is always hope and a solution. Don't let debt get on top of you.
Nine top tips to prevent burglary
Gardai have made their annual appeal to householders to beware of burglary. There are twice as many break-ins in winter as summer during the hours of 5-10pm, when it's darker.
A fifth of burglars simply walk in through open doors or climb through an unsecured window, so don't make it easy for them.
If you can meet the three-minute 'delay' test, you're less likely to be targeted. Most of all, make it look as though you're home - even if you're not. Here are their top tips:
◊ Fit a five-lever mortice lock on the front door and a door chain (inset);
◊ Fit window locks to downstairs windows;
◊ Trim hedging and bushes in the front garden - burglars like to be hidden;
◊ If you don't have an alarm, consider getting one. It will also cut your insurance premium;
◊ Add a separate lock to sliding glass doors;
◊ Always ask for ID from tradespeople/callers. Put the chain on the door while you check it. A real company rep won't mind;
◊ Record serial numbers and take photos of all valuables. It will help if stolen goods are recovered, and speed up insurance claims;
◊ Don't keep cash in the house;
◊ Give a neighbour your spare key; never leave it under mats or in flower pots.
Be safe this winter and help the gardai to help you.
Sign up for Cheerios breakfast event to help Childline raise funds
With over 90pc of its funding coming from the public, Childline is a cause that needs all the help it can get.
The Cheerios Breakfast week is from October 5-11 and if you register online you’ll get posters, a money-box and free Cheerios to host your own fund-raising breakfast.
The site also has games to download to keep the smallies happy while you’re enjoying coffee with mums and dads.
Childline is available provides vital help for distressed kids 365 days a year. www.childlinebreakfast.ie or call 1850 50 40 50.