Fianna Fáil Finance spokesperson Michael McGrath has stated that the Government’s “mortgage-to-rent” scheme for distressed borrowers has effectively collapsed following confirmation that just 85 cases have been fully concluded under the scheme since its inception in July 2012. This equates to an average of fewer than 3 cases a month. It was originally envisaged that the scheme would facilitate approximately 500 cases a year with a total of 3,500 over seven years.

Deputy McGrath said that a root and branch review of the scheme was now needed to make it fit for purpose.

Under the mortgage-to-rent scheme, people in difficulty with their mortgage payments can switch from owning their home to renting their home as social tenants.  Figures supplied to Deputy McGrath indicate that 2,748 cases had been submitted by the end of March 2015 for participation in the scheme, of which 68 per cent were deemed ineligible or were terminated during the process.

Deputy McGrath stated, “Mortgage-to-rent was launched amid much fanfare by the then Minister for Housing Jan O’Sullivan in 2012. It was meant to be a cornerstone of the government’s strategy to allow people in mortgage difficulty to stay in their homes. We know there are over 37,000 households who are more than two years in arrears on their mortgage. The reality is that thousands of these are now being brought before the courts to have their homes repossessed. While there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution, mortgage-to-rent should be a viable option for some families in these circumstances. However, the scheme is now effectively moribund. This is due to a combination of bureaucracy between the parties involved and unnecessarily restrictive rules which apply to its operation.

“There are a number of specific difficulties with the scheme as it is structured. One significant one is the maximum current market value of €220,000 which applies in the Dublin region. This is now hopelessly out of date given that the average price of a Dublin house now stands at €343,000. A large number of applications are being ruled out on this basis. There are also problems around the restrictive nature of income limits for participants. For example, the maximum net household income which applies in the Cork City and Dublin City local authority areas for a family of two adults and two children is €38,500. It is also questionable whether adequate funding is in place for the scheme should these difficulties be ironed out. In addition, there appears to be a lot of time wasted in getting the necessary documentation together with considerable duplication of effort.

“It is a big step for a family to give up ownership of their house given that they may have put their life savings in to the home. However, the voluntary housing associations have indicated that, in the completed cases to date, tenants report being pleased to have removed the threat of repossession, allowing them to remain in the family home. The scheme has significant potential but it is simply not being realised at the moment. It represents a far better outcome than evicting people from their homes and forcing them onto the social housing list.

“The banks also need to step up to the plate and actively support the scheme. In this context, the question of what happens to the residual debt once the property is sold to a housing association appears to be a major stumbling block. The banks have to recognise that in some cases the debt is irrecoverable and they will have to write off a proportion of it. To date they appear to be very reluctant to recognise this fact and remain solely concerned with their own interests.  Only determined action on the part of the government can break this logjam.”