Elderfield: 'no silver bullet'

Leading mortgage experts say they were disappointed that the Financial Regulator Matthew Elderfield appeared to have ruled out supporting writing-off debts of home lenders as new figures pointed to mounting levels of debt stress.

Michael Dowling, a senior director at the Independent Mortgage Advisers Federation (IMAF), warned that the Financial Regulator's latest figures continued to understate the true numbers of households struggling to pay their mortgages.

The Financial Regulator published figures it collects from the banks that showed a sharp rise to 32,321 in mortgage accounts, accounting for €6.1bn in home loans, that failed to meet three or more monthly home-loan payments.

But experts said the figures continued to understate the amount of mortgage distress because mortgage banks earlier this year admitted that a further 30,000 mortgage households had switched to interest-only payments or had the terms of their home loans extended. Together, the figures suggest that over 62,000 households were either already in arrears because of unemployment or had been forced to renegotiate with their banks because they were struggling to pay their mortgages.

The Irish Bankers Federation (IBF) said that its estimate had been collected "on an informal basis" earlier this year based on feedback from its member banks and covered mortgage holders who had restructured their mortgage repayments in one form or another. Its figures, which have not been updated, did not cover the value of restructured mortgages, an IBF spokesman said.

Elderfield said last week that there was "no silver bullet" to help people in mortgage arrears. Elderfield is a member, with representatives of debt counsellors and the lenders, of a government-commissioned working group which is trying to agree the best ways of helping people facing mounting levels of debt in the economic slump.

Dowling said: "I was disappointed that the regulator appeared to suggest that he does not support a mini-Nama for mortgage holders. It is worrying that he appeared not to leave any door open bar the options already out there for debt relief. The options that are out there are only a stop-gap measure and the problems will have to be faced in the next 12 months."