A new service for distressed mortgage holders aims to devise the best possible repayment plan to help people stay in their homes.

Mortgage lenders have agreed to pay for the independent financial advice service, which will be provided by a panel of qualified accountants.

The 1,000 accountants will be drawn from members of the main accountancy institutes in Ireland.

The lender will pay €250 for an accountant of the borrower's choosing to provide advice.

The cost of the service is expected to run to about €10m.

Advice will generally be limited to the borrower's principal private residence and those experiencing difficulties with their mortgages have been asked to contact their lenders.

Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton said that a dedicated helpline to deal with mortgage holders is expected to be fully operational by next week.

According to the Central Bank, one in five home loans are in some kind of difficulty.

The scheme will be reviewed in June of next year to ensure it is useful to those it is designed to help.

All of the banks who are members of the Irish Banking Federation have agreed to the arrangement.

New Beginning, a group representing mortgage holders, has questioned the real benefits of the scheme.

It said the scheme, in its current format, was limited and it was concerned that it was being driven by financial institutions wanting to minimise negotiation with distressed borrowers.

Ms Burton said that she had not received a definite undertaking from the banks that they would not pass the cost of this scheme onto bank customers in another guise.

However, she said that the banks had a "very serious" responsibility to taxpayers and that this new scheme was "simply some small return" to those who had helped the banks out for the last four years.