Most of us look forward to Christmas and all the festive fun it can bring, but we also know it can put even more financial pressure on some, particularly those already struggling to pay their bills. The biggest bill for most, being their mortgage. In fact, the Central Bank revealed that there were 87,796 accounts in mortgage arrears at the end of June this year - add the cost of Christmas into the mix for these families, and things suddenly don’t seem quite so festive.
For anyone worried about mortgage payments, or your bank is taking you to court over your mortgage arrears, there is free financial and legal advice available for anyone who needs it. Abhaile and MABS are a few of the fantastic services that can help mortgage holders in arrears to find the best solutions, and to keep them in their own homes, wherever possible. For some cases, court proceedings can even mark the beginning of a positive resolution process.
What to do if you receive a court summons?
Lenders can be aggressive in their communications when a borrower has been missing mortgage repayments or not paying the full repayment amount each month. It can start to feel very overwhelming and very stressful, very fast. Taking action and steps to resolve the issue, will help you feel back in control.
If you do get summonsed to court, the first thing to do is to get independent financial advice from the Abhaile service via your local MABS office or the MABS helpline (0761 07 2000). If you haven’t already discussed options with your lender, make contact with them to explain your situation – believe it or not, the banks are open to making alternative arrangements regarding repayments. The Central Bank has a Code of Conduct for Mortgage Arrears (CCMA) and lenders must work with you to help get you back on track with your mortgage.
Can they take my home?
Any borrower in fear of losing their home should know the legislative protections available to them. For example, the court can postpone repossession proceedings for up to two months, to allow the borrower to explore the possibility of putting in place a Personal Insolvency Arrangement under the Land and Conveyancing Reform Law, 2013.
A Personal Insolvency Arrangement or PIA, is a court-approved agreement between you and your creditor. It allows for the restructuring and write-off of debt, with the aim of keeping you in your home where possible. Borrowers can access the services of a Personal Insolvency Practitioner for free via Abhaile.
Cooperation is key. If you do not cooperate, you are at greater risk of losing your home, as you will lose the protection of the CCMA.
Do I need to attend court in person?
If your name is on a court list, it is always my advice to show up, if possible. It shows respect for the court and it’s also an opportunity for your side of the story to be heard. As I said at the start, it could also be an opportunity for a resolution. Proof of repayments or efforts made to pay towards them, will go a long way in fighting your corner in court too.
Do you need a Solicitor?
It is up to you – some of the more complicated cases definitely benefit from legal advice. Under the Abhaile scheme, you can have a free face-to-face meeting with a solicitor (a Duty Solicitor), who will explain your legal situation and advise you how best to resolve it. If you do not have a solicitor for court, there are Abhaile Duty Solicitors and Court Mentors offering free support at every Circuit Court sitting too.
The court has issued a repossession order. What happens now?
In April to June this year alone, 343 homes were repossessed over mortgage arrears. In these cases, a resolution had not been reached after repeat hearings, and the court ruled in the lender’s favour, giving permission to repossess these houses. If this happens, the court may grant a “stay”: a grace period allowing you to stay in your home for three to six months before the lender is permitted to take possession of it. After a repossession order is granted, you can still appeal the ruling to a higher court, or make contact with your bank to see if alternative agreements can be reached.
It’s never too late to try and come to a resolution. For anyone in fear of fear of losing their family home, the services mentioned here, can help and offer support. Especially, if needed, in the run up to Christmas. Abhaile is jointly coordinated and funded by the Department of Justice and Equality and the Department of Social Protection. MABS, the Insolvency Service of Ireland, the Legal Aid Board and the Citizens Information Board are working together to administer the Abhaile scheme. These initiatives have never been more important, and combined with national reforms to make improvements to Ireland’s housing crisis, can make a real difference to the lives of our neighbours, who are just trying to pay their ‘Abhaile’ bills.
There has been much discussion and debate around the issue of kid’s and their safety online - there have even been proposed laws to make it illegal for retailers to sell an internet-enabled device to a child younger than 14. Whether you agree with this or think it’s a step too far, there is no denying that it is increasingly important for parent’s to be aware of their kid’s online activities, the apps they use and how they engage with them. Personally, I think it depends on the kids and if the parents are happy for them to use smartphones, but be smart about it! Supervision and education are key. The internet and technology are here to stay.
Kids aren’t going to suddenly become safe online at a certain age. Parents need to be part of the process and need to empower their kids to use the internet and apps in a safe, informed and appropriate way. This is not just for their own education or development, it could even keep them out of getting in serious trouble with the law.
I have had cases, and they are becoming more common, where children are sharing extremely inappropriate images of themselves (otherwise known as sexting - taking or sharing explicit images or video using a mobile phone), and not realising that they are in fact, in possession of and distributing child pornography, as per The Child Trafficking and Pornography Act, 1998, which has recently been amended by The Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act, 2017.
Help them understand the law. This includes:
- Possessing, taking or distributing images of someone who is under the age of 18 is illegal in Ireland.
- This could even be argued if the person in the photo is a minor, and the one distributing, in possession of or taking the photographs.
- If a child's mobile phone contract is in his or her parent's name, then the parent can be liable for what the phone is used for, and any indecent material that is saved or sent from it.
In 2017, CyberSafeIreland reported that:
- Despite age restrictions of 13 and older on many social media services, the vast majority of children under 13 that they met already had a significant online presence.
- Snapchat and Instagram remained the most popular instant messaging and social media apps along with Musical.ly YouTube, Viber and WhatsApp amongst the 628 children surveyed.
- 22% of the children surveyed were in online contact with strangers. Most of these (14%) reported that they were in contact at least once a week and 6% of this number every day.
- Nearly a third (32%) of children surveyed have either never spoken to their parents/guardians about online safety or have not done so in the last year.
- In almost two-thirds (64%) of the workshops with 8-10 year olds, at least one child was playing adult rated games.
These are, of course serious and worrying issues for parents - but denying access to the internet won’t make these problems disappear. Instead, support and safeguard your kids with their online use. Many parents feel more digital education should be taught in schools and although a very good idea, greater parental responsibility is needed too. It’s a much more realistic and effective approach than new laws or regulations.
Put the power back in your hands. For any parents wondering what they can do, check the parental controls on devices. These are technical settings that you can use to restrict or control content or activities for your child on a particular app, device or network. As the old phone campaign told us, ‘It’s good to talk’, but in a very different context to what they had meant then. 'It's good to talk' to your kids about how they use their smartphones, now. Once they press the send button, they will no longer have control of the image or the consequences of sending it. And unlike Las Vegas - what happens on the Internet stays on the Internet.
For more, check out CyberSafeIreland at http://cybersafeireland.org/