The Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton has confirmed that the Government has taken no steps to implement the recommendation in the Keane report to establish an independent mortgage advice service with at least 100 professional advisors, according to Fianna Fáil Finance Spokesperson Michael McGrath.
Deputy McGrath stated, “Every time the Central Bank publishes mortgage arrears statistics showing a further deterioration in the number of people experiencing mortgage distress, a Government Spokesperson is wheeled out to say the Keane report is being implemented.
“One of the key recommendations of the Keane report, handed to the Government in September 2011, was to establish an independent mortgage advice function with at least 100 professional advisors whose role it would be to negotiate with the banks on behalf of those in distress. Minister Joan Burton has now admitted that the Government is still sitting on this recommendation and is trying to decide whether or not it is a good idea to implement it.
“This news highlights once again the need for Government to bring forward its overall plan for dealing with the mortgage arrears crisis. At this point in time, the truth is we simply do not know which of the recommendations in the Keane report are being implemented and which have been mothballed.
“People in mortgage distress want practical assistance from Government as they seek to address the financial problems facing them. It should not take a Dáil question from an opposition TD to find out whether key recommendations of the Keane report are being implemented or not. This report was to provide a roadmap for the Government to tackle the mortgage arrears problem in a meaningful way. We now find out that key recommendations of the report have not been acted upon. It begs the question, what else in the report is simply being ignored?”
The reply to the parliamentary question submitted by Deputy McGrath is included below:
To the Minister for Social Protection
To ask the Minister for Social Protection when she expects the establishment of the new mortgage support and advice function as recommended by the Keane report on mortgage arrears which envisaged the recruitment of approximately 100 advisers with financial, accounting and legal expertise to help borrowers in mortgage arrears in discussions and negotiations with their banks; and if she will make a statement on the matter.
– Michael McGrath.
R E P L Y
Minister for Social Protection (Joan Burton T.D.):
My Department participated in the Interdepartmental Mortgage Arrears Working Group (referred to as the Keane group) and is currently a member of the Steering Group set up by the Minister for Finance to oversee and drive its overall recommendations. My Department provides a number of supports for those in mortgage difficulty, particularly through the Mortgage Interest Supplement scheme which aims to provide short term support to eligible people who are unable to meet their mortgage interest repayments. In 2011 some 19,000 people benefitted from this scheme at a cost to the Exchequer of almost €68 million.
The Interdepartmental Mortgage Arrears Working Group recommended that an independent Mortgage Support and Advice Service be established to advise mortgage holders in arrears or pre arrears in assessing their options. The report stated that the need for this service would be time limited to approximately 3 years.
The publication of the heads of the Personal Insolvency Bill in January 2012, proposes the introduction of a four step process to address personal insolvency issues with the first three steps involving non-judicial debt settlement arrangements. This is a new arrangement and was not envisaged when the thinking in support of a Mortgage Advisory Service was originally proposed. Therefore, my Department is examining the role envisaged for the Personal Insolvency Trustee to ensure that there is no conflict with or duplication of Government supported services. From the customers perspective for example, the target group and complexity of the problems that need to be addressed appear to be similar and from the advisory perspective, the skills and expertise required would also appear to be similar for both services.
My Department is chairing a Working Group as part of the Implementation Steering Group to examine the issues relating to the establishment of the Mortgage Advice Service, and as part of its remit it is examining the efficiency, necessity and governance arrangements of potentially two separate services. The needs of the customer, the importance of ease of access and information on services and the way in which the services will be made available must be to the fore. My Department will be consulting with all relevant groups as part of its work in this area.