Indications are that Northern Ireland house prices are likely to continue to fall. At the same time independent advice charity Housing Rights Service is reporting that the number of mortgage debt clients in negative equity is increasing.
Janet Hunter, Housing Rights Director, briefed the Social Development Committee at Stormont late last week about the levels of repossessions locally. “Our situation in Northern Ireland is much worse than other regions. Repossession action is increasing while in Britain it is decreasing. This is likely to be linked to higher levels of economic inactivity, unemployment levels and the rapid decline in house prices from an all time average high of £234,000 in 2007 to £113,614 in 2011.
Housing Rights Service was awarded a contract by the Department for Social Development (DSD) to provide free independent advice to people experiencing mortgage difficulties. In the last three months the number of homeowners contacting that service has doubled. The DSD responded to this by awarding the company additional funding to cope with the increase in demand.
Northern Ireland Court statistics chart a 104% increase in the number of Northern Ireland people facing losing their homes in the last 5 years.
Ms Hunter continued: “The number of households contacting us for help is growing on a monthly basis. For the majority of clients, we are able to find a financial solution to allow them to remain in their home. However, the future is very much dependant upon market conditions. My concern is that unless both the local economy and the local housing market start to pick up, increased repossessions will be inevitable. This would have a devastating impact on many families’ lives.”
To offset this Housing Rights Service is calling on government to assist the growing number of families who are in mortgage arrears. “If more families across Northern Ireland start to lose their homes there will be a human and financial cost to our society. It is critical that support for struggling homeowners is placed at heart of the NI Executive’s response to this economic crisis and the Programme for Government must contain a commitment to tackle this issue head on.”
Social Development Minister Nelson McCausland, commented: “The Executive continues to focus its efforts on supporting those people who are among the most vulnerable. The numbers facing court action for repossession of their home remains high. It is vitally important that those people seek urgent independent advice and speak to their lender to avoid losing their home and explore the options that are available. The additional money I have allocated will assist 525 additional new mortgage debt advice service clients. My department is also funding a new advice booklet for those facing difficulties with their mortgage and is working with Housing Rights Service and the Council of Mortgage Lenders in Northern Ireland to distribute this widely. It will be published shortly.”