Speech by Dan Neville TD on Mortgage Distress Debate in Dail Eireann

Speech by Dan Neville TD on debate on Mortgage Distress in Dail Eireann – 10th July 2013
Deputy Dan Neville: I welcome the opportunity to speak on the motion. Previous speakers referred to distressed mortgages and I want to deal with this issue and the people involved. Some 47% of those who have mortgages are seriously distressed people. I get my information on this from MABS, which is an excellent organisation dealing with this issue at the coalface, and with which I had discussions earlier today. There is considerable personal distress among mortgage holders. While 47% is a suggestion, there are no clear statistics around the level of distress. We are dealing with the whole area of how to handle the mortgages, the banks and so on but we are not dealing with, examining and quantifying the level of personal distress.
Let us make one point clear. The majority of people want to pay back their debts. While there is of course a very small cohort who want to misuse the situation, let us put to bed the idea that people do not want to pay their debts, because they certainly do.
Most of the people involved, although not all, are male clients of the banks who are dealing with debts that are out of control. MABS has told me that, increasingly, it has to hold people’s hands to try to help them through the crisis they are experiencing. People who are in long-term distress are tired and weary, lack confidence, have lost self-esteem and have lost hope. Let us realise where people are. MABS told me that the first thing they often tell people is to visit their GP immediately. The support systems that are available are all over the place and, to some extent, MABS is being sidelined. Is there a clear strategy by the Government in regard to the role of MABS, which has fantastic expertise? My organisation, the Irish Association of Suicidology, examined this issue at one of our conferences and we know the people in MABS have a lot of expertise to contribute.
There is a lot of confusion around what is going to happen, including what will happen to these people in the context of the Personal Insolvency Act and whether there is long-term support for them. What about the whole area of repossessions? There is no clarity in the talk about repossessions. Targets are given to people but how significant are those targets?
The banks have training for their financial advisers at different levels but the implementation of those skills is the problem. If the bank manager does not support how they handle their clients and the bottom line is the only thing that matters, the stress created becomes an issue. The banks’ financial advisers have to be very careful how they handle people on the telephone. Males, in particular, often answer “Yes” and “No” in response to questions they are asked on the telephone. The banks are advised to opt for more face-to-face discussions with people in distress and clients with difficult mortgages, rather than looking for financial information over the telephone, because it is sometimes difficult to communicate in that way. If the banks feel they are not getting the full story, they can get suspicious about their clients, which creates further distress. Face-to-face discussion with body language is vital but it is missing on the telephone. It is important that face-to-face communication is used.
There must be an understanding of how to deal with distress. The banks must ensure the training and skills of financial advisers are improved rather than just focusing on the bank’s bottom line. Everything is concentrated on the bottom line rather than the situation of the person. We know about the pressures of the recession but this is an aspect that is not discussed or understood except by those experiencing it.