Inflation at 7.8% in Ireland – the highest for 38 years. The energy crisis and spiralling living costs all fuelled by the invasion of Ukraine are the main contributors to the financial hardship that many many citizens are currently experiencing.

But there is help and support available no matter how bleak your situation that some people may not be aware of, particularly in relation to your mortgage. John Lowe of MoneyDoctors.ie reports.

It is 14 years since the financial crash of 2008 where the landscape of home ownership in Ireland was irreparably transformed. While recent rising house prices have pulled many out of that zone, there are still many mortgage holders locked into loans that have been in arrears for over five years – and many more for two years or more.

With negative equity - where you owe more than the property is worth - still very much present and a continuing inability to meet repayments for many mortgage holders, the need for support services is still crucial in surviving these challenging times.

The Abhaile Scheme, created in 2016 and co-ordinated by the Department of Justice and Equality (DJE) and the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection (DEASP) is operated by the Money Advice and Budgeting Service (MABS) in conjunction with the Insolvency Service of Ireland (ISI), the Legal Aid Board (LAB), and the Citizens Information Board (CIB).

The Insolvency Service of Ireland, itself set up by the Personal Insolvency Act 2012 and 2015, and the Abhaile Scheme are still there to help debtors cope with their financial situations.

How does it work?
Abhaile - for those not fluent in the Irish language, it means "home" - exists to help people in serious mortgage arrears who are unable to settle their debts, or those who are facing legal action or home repossession.

The goal of the scheme is simple: to keep people in their own homes. It is 100% funded by the state: eligible applicants are provided with vouchers entitling them to free, expert legal and financial advice, which can be accessed through MABS, the Money Advice and Budgeting Service.

There are five advice and assistance services provided by the Abhaile scheme:

  1. Personal Insolvency Practitioner (PIP) service
  2. Accountancy service
  3. Consultation solicitor service
  4. Duty solicitor service
  5. Personal insolvency court review service

Don't worry if you’re not sure which applies to you: each person who avails of the scheme is assigned an adviser to refer them to the right expert for their case, and to help them to communicate with their lender to work towards a solution.

This is vital: while the desire can, understandably, be to hide away from the reality of being unable to meet your mortgage repayments, burying your head in the sand is the worst thing you can do.

From 2010, the implementation of the Mortgage Arrears Resolution Process (MARP) outlined five steps for lenders to operate when dealing with those in arrears or close to arrears:

  1. Communication
  2. Financial information
  3. Assessment
  4. Resolution
  5. Appeals

This framework has become compulsory under the Central Bank’s Code of Conduct on Mortgage Arrears (CCMA), with a view to helping the borrower as much as possible. However a huge number of cases are outside the MARP guidelines.

Can I avail of it?
To be eligible for the Abhaile scheme, you must meet four criteria:

  1. Be in mortgage arrears on your home
  2. Be at serious risk of losing your home due to arrears
  3. Be insolvent (unable to pay your debts in full)
  4. Be reasonably accommodated: that is, that your accommodation is suited to the needs of you and your dependents and is not disproportionately expensive.

Remember, the scheme exists to help keep people in their homes, so if your arrears are on an investment or buy-to-let property, you will not qualify (although those in arrears on their home while also owning a buy-to-let property may be eligible).

Who should I contact?
You can find your local MABS office on www.MABS.ie/contact-MABS; text by WhatsApp on 086 035 3141, or arrange a call back by emailing helpline@mabs.ie.

Alternately you could also go directly to a Personal Insolvency Practitioner – yours truly is one of 114 PIPs around Ireland. Access the full list from the Insolvency Service of Ireland or click here.

Remember you are not alone and there is help and support available so please contact us.

For more information click on John Lowe's profile above or on his website.

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent or reflect the views of RTÉ.