It’s a case of heads I win – tails you lose.
Or at least that seems to be the mantra that our banks are continuing to spout despite the legacy they have left the country with of massive debts following their lending splurge in the noughties.
Like all bankers, they want it everyway. And now, worryingly, the Central Bank, which is the State authority armed with the task of policing the banking sector, appear to have joined in. This is the same Central Bank that was asleep in the sentry post when the commercial banks – or most of them at least – had a race to the bottom to see how much cash they could shovel to anyone who crossed their doorway with a hare-brained idea for a building development armed with a photocopy from their child’s secondary school map of Ireland and the latest 10 year growth projections from the Economic and Social Research Institute.
The Central Bank yesterday concluded its “consultation” period on revising its code of conduct on mortgage arrears. At present, banks are restricted to the number of times per month they can call you – or hound you – for cash. The banks want this to change.
Also up for grabs is the restrictions on banks forcing debtors off tracker or cheaper mortgages onto more expensive ones.
And they suggest if you are not happy with the way you are being treated you can appeal to an “independent” panel drawn from the very same banks.
David Hall of the Irish Mortgage Holders Organisations is up in arms. Crucially so too are Free Legal Advice Centres. The Government has been less forthcoming but Minister of State Brian Hayes – a man with common sense – has insisted people have to be treated fairly.
There is no doubt the Government is caught in a bind. The banks can’t make money because they have too many cheap mortgages or trackers and too many distressed householders who can’t make their monthly repayments not to mind clear their arrears.
We need the banks to return to profitability – and have the money to lend to small business and entrepreneurs.
And the argument from those championing the cause of letting the hounds loose to pursue at least some of the 30% of mortgage holders who are hopelessly in arrears or at risk is that it will breathe life into our Zombie banks. And root out those who can pay mortgages but won’t.
But the Government need to tread very carefully here. Households in arrears or at risk are real people. In fact there are about 750,000 real men, women and children.
The rules governing how these families are treated should not be changed on the flip of a coin.