The number of mortgages in arrears continued to fall in the three months to the end of December, according to new data from the Central Bank.

Of the 728,168 private residential mortgages on principal residences, 63,246 accounts were behind in their repayments.

This represents a decrease of 1,264 accounts or 2% over the three monthly period.

The volume of home loans in arrears of 90 days or more dropped by 2.6% to 44,009 during the quarter – the twenty-first consecutive quarterly fall in this category.

It was a similar picture regarding accounts in arrears for over 720 days, where there was a fall of 447 or 1.6%.

This was the fourteenth straight quarterly decline in this category, which now accounts for 44% of all accounts in arrears.

Mortgages on 111,504 family homes have now been restructured, the figures show, representing a decrease of 2,367 compared to the end of the previous quarter.

But nearly nine out of every ten of those borrowers were meeting the terms of the deal struck with the lender, the regulator said.

In total, 4,251 new restructure arrangements were agreed during the last three months of the year, bringing the total over the course of 2018 to 22,171.

166 family homes were taken into possession by lenders during the quarter, up slightly from 161 properties in the previous quarter.

The majority were voluntary surrendered or abandoned, the bank said, with the balance repossessed on foot of a court order.

The data also shows that non-banking institutions, including so-called "vulture funds", now hold 12% of the total mortgages on family homes in the country.

Two thirds of those loans are held by regulated organisations, with the balance unregulated.

When it came to buy-to-let mortgages, there were 111,141 accounts worth €19.1 billion in existence at the end of the year. 

18,999 or 17% of these were in arrears, down 7.7% from the 20,579 in difficulty at the end of September. 

85 rental properties were taken into possession by lenders during the period, the data shows.

Commenting on the figures, David Hall, CEO of the Irish Mortgage Holders Organisation, called for a Central Bank review of the sustainability of mortgages that had been restructured.

"It is important to note that ‘meeting the terms of the arrangement’ is not a measure of sustainability, as not all restructure types represent longer-term sustainable solutions as defined within the Mortgage Arrears Resolution Targets," he said.

He added that the figures must be kept in perspective as Permanent TSB and Ulster Bank had sold 15,000 loans to so-called "vulture funds" and legal activity around those mortgages was paused for a significant period pending the completion of the transfer.

"It is critical that the Central Bank conducts a review to assess the sustainability of the 116,000 mortgage restructures that are in place as I fear an unrealistic position with a future time bomb is being created."