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When everyone has a home

028 9024 5640: Housing & Debt Helpline for Northern Ireland

ADVISER: Court representation and casework services delivering positive outcomes

Housing Rights provides the only Housing Possession Court Duty Scheme in Northern Ireland. These court desks schemes, which are more commonly seen in England, provide free legal representation to homeowners and tenants who are in court for possession hearings and risk being made homeless because of housing debt.

Advice and representation at court can make all the difference as this recent example illustrates.

Providing on the day assistance at court

Our court adviser approached an anxious looking couple in the Chancery Court last November to ask if they would like free legal representation during their hearing.  Simon and Tracy Dobbs had fallen into arrears on their mortgage. During their hearing, our court adviser spoke for Simon and Tracy and explained their position to the Master, asking if the hearing could be adjourned to allow Housing Rights time to look into the matter further.  The Master was sympathetic to the couple’s position but, cautioned that the bank would be entitled to possession if no arrangement could be reached

After the hearing, our court adviser explained to Mr and Mrs Dobbs that she would ask a colleague in Housing Rights to look at their case in more detail. The case was then transferred to one of our Mortgage Debt Advice Service caseworkers.

Poor health led to loss of work and risk of repossession

Our adviser met with Simon and Tracy to find out more about their situation.  Simon had worked for a number of years in a full time managerial position.  Tracy had always been unwell, but her condition had deteriorated in 2013.  Between 2013 and 2014 Tracy had spent months in hospital with pneumonia.  When she was finally discharged, it was with  significant care needs.  She had several serious heart conditions, mobility issues and needed a constant oxygen supply. Tracy’s occupational therapist had recommended that the Dobbs’s home be significantly renovated in order to meet Tracy’s new needs and the Housing Executive had provisionally approved an application for a Disabled Facilities Grant.

Although Simon had tried to continue working while juggling Tracy’s care needs, he had to leave work altogether in 2014 in order to look after his wife.  At this stage they were in receipt of various benefits and were receiving Support for Mortgage Interest to help with their housing costs, but they were having significant difficulties making their monthly mortgage instalments.

Maximising income and working on repayment strategies

The adviser had a closer look at the household’s expenditure.  Mr and Mrs Dobbs had a number of loans with their local credit union and were maintaining the regular payments on these.  The adviser contacted the credit union to explain the difficulties that Simon and Tracy were currently experiencing and to ask if there was any possibility that the loan repayments could be reduced.  The credit union was very accommodating and agreed to reduce the payments by 80%, meaning this money could now go towards the mortgage payments and the couple could present a reasonable repayment proposal to their mortgage lender. 

Successful outcome for homeowners

The adviser wrote to the mortgage lender, submitting a repayment plan and asking for an extension of the mortgage term.  Extending the term reduced the monthly instalment to a more manageable figure which, thanks to the credit union’s agreement to reduce the loan repayments, the couple could afford to bolster with an additional amount each month towards the arrears.  The lender agreed to adjourn the case generally and the couple are now in a position to proceed with their renovation work to ensure Tracy is fully able to enjoy her home.  Had our court adviser and casework team not worked together to assist Mr and Mrs Dobbs, their home would likely have been repossessed and they could have had to spend a very long time in temporary housing while waiting for an allocation of a suitably adapted social tenancy. 

Tagged In

Repossession, Practical tips, Adviser

This article was written on 16 May 2016. It should not be relied on as a statement of the current law or policy position. For help with housing issues please contact our helpline on 028 9024 5640 or use our online chat service at www.housingadviceNI.org.