Borrowers who are struggling to make repayments on mortgages, credit cards, personal and other loans due to the cost of living are being encouraged to talk to their lender or credit servicing provider under a new information and awareness campaign.
The initiative by the country's retail banks, non-bank lenders and credit servicing firms aims to help those who are struggling with the pressures caused by the rising cost of living.
The plan includes a new website with in-depth advice for those with financial difficulties, DealingWithDebt.ie, as well as a national advertising campaign.
"BPFI member banks, non-banks and credit servicing firms are very aware that with the increased cost of living, as well as recent rises in interest rates, many households are coming under increased financial pressure," said BPFI CEO Brian Hayes.
"While members are not seeing any trends that would indicate a cause for concern in the numbers of arrears cases currently presenting, for those customers who are worried or struggling with their mortgage repayments or indeed other payments such as personal loans, credit cards or overdrafts, our one key message today, is that the most important thing you can do is to contact your bank or financial services provider as soon as possible or indeed a trusted third party such as MABS among others," he said.
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As part of the development, the Banking and Payments Federation Ireland (BPFI) and the Money Advice and Budgeting Service (MABS) are expanding their relationship, which will see all customers from pre-arrears through to late-stage arrears now fall under their framework agreement.
"While many households in Ireland are managing to juggle the current cost of living pressures, it is really important that people reach out for support before finding themselves in difficulty," said Michelle O'Hara, National Spokesperson for MABS.
"If people are finding themselves under pressure the key is communication."
"Although it can feel difficult to make that first step, it is really important for customers to communicate directly with their lender, or if they feel they can’t do that, I strongly encourage people to reach out to MABS."
Latest data from the Central Bank shows that the number of private dwelling mortgage accounts in short-term arrears rose by 2,326 in the fourth quarter of last year, in a sign that some households may be struggling to make repayments.
At the end of December, there were 29,499 accounts, or 4.1%, in arrears of more than 90 days, a decline from 4.3% of accounts in December 2021.
But according to the BPFI, banks in Ireland have the largest set of solutions available to mortgages customers in difficulty across Europe.
Over the past decade they have been involved in restructuring more than 10,000 mortgages.
And the regulator's figures show there were more than 60,000 home mortgages in a restructuring arrangement by the end of last year and more than 88% of these were meeting the terms of their current agreements.
"This clearly shows that many customers in financial difficulty are working with their providers and being supported through alternative arrangements," said Mr Hayes.
"For some consumers, switching their mortgage from their current provider, such as a credit servicing firm, to another provider, may also be an option."
"If your financial circumstances have changed and if you meet the criteria of another mortgage provider, this option might be now available on a case-by-case basis."
Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, Ms O'Hara said people with tracker mortgages are feeling the pressure most.
"They were on a particularly low level [of interest] for a considerable amount of time and now that has risen seven times since last July," she said.
"They are the ones seeing the cost increase on a fairly quick basis as well.
"This is the reason why we are coming out, as MABS, in support of the BPFI to say: communicate and engage," Ms O'Hara said.