The Abhaile scheme, which supports families who are in serious or long-term mortgage arrears and are at risk of losing their homes, has been extended by the Government for a further four years.

Funded and managed jointly by the Department of Social Protection and the Department of Justice, the scheme was set up in 2016 for three years to provide those in difficulty with financial and legal advice from experts.

The programme, which is free to access and delivered by the Insolvency Service of Ireland, the Legal Aid Board and the Money Advice and Budgeting Service (MABS), was then extended in 2019 for a further three years and again last year for another year pending the outcome of an external review.

More than 26,400 households who have used it have either got a solution in place or are on a track to reach one.

This represents around 85% of the total numbers who have used the scheme over the seven years of its existence.

The proposal to extend Abhaile until 2027 was brought to cabinet by Minister for Social Protection, Heather Humphreys and Minister for Justice Helen McEntee.

"Given the current interest rate increases and the cost-of-living pressures that people are under, Minister McEntee and I felt it was only right to extend the Abhaile service for a further four-year period," said Minister Humphreys.

"In addition, this extension is supported by a recently completed independent review which recommends Abhaile continue, and by the commitment in the current Programme for Government to continue to fund Abhaile."

The review found that Ireland has a specific issue with long term mortgage arrears and recommended a specific focus on finding solutions for such borrowers in difficulty.

It also found that Abhaile is effective, recommended it be extended for a time-specific period and provided recommendations on how some parts of the service could be improved.

Those recommendations are now to be implemented.

"Through its free, expert financial and legal support services, Abhaile aims, wherever possible, to find solutions for borrowers that enable them to remain in their homes," said Minister McEntee.

"Abhaile is often the first point of contact for distressed mortgage holders, and it can provide successful and sustainable solutions for people."

"I know that the decision to extend Abhaile until the end of 2027 will enable it to reach borrowers who have not yet engaged and those who may be at risk."

The decision also includes extending the work of the MABS Dedicated Mortgage Arrears service.

According to the Central Bank, at the end of March there were 48,760 mortgage accounts in arrears, with 22,015 in arrears of more than one year and over 18,418 for more than two years.

CEO of the Banking and Payments Federation Ireland, Brian Hayes, said it was a good decision by the Government to extend the Abhaile scheme.

"In excess of 100,000 mortgages have been restructured by the Irish banking sector over the course of the last decade," Mr Hayes said. "We're in the business of finding solutions for people who get into debt, so Abhaile and the work they do across the legal and financial area is really important and it's a very good decision by Government."