104. Deputy Pearse Doherty asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the estimated cost of providing legal aid to all borrowers facing repossession hearings; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8848/19]
Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Charles Flanagan): Borrowers may apply for legal aid from the Legal Aid Board to defend repossession proceedings, where such persons meet the financial eligibility and merits criteria prescribed under the Civil Legal Aid Act 1995 and the Civil Legal Aid Regulations 1996 to 2017.
The merits criteria include if the applicant is reasonably likely to be successful in the proceedings and if having regard to all the circumstances of the case including the cost to the Board as against the benefit to the applicant, it is reasonable to grant legal aid.
The Deputy should note that in many repossession cases the applicant is unlikely to have any prospect of success as the lender will usually be entitled to orders for possession and sale in circumstances where the mortgage is valid and in arrears. In such circumstances the applicant is unlikely to meet the criteria for the granting of civil legal aid.
According to the Legal Aid Board, in relation to the estimating cost of providing legal aid to all Defendants irrespective of their means and the merits of the case, it would be usual to establish the potential demand for the service. However, the Courts Service does not publish figures for the number of possession cases currently before the courts. I am not, therefore, in a position to speculate on the likely number of such cases or the costs arising from them.
I want to reiterate the Government’s commitment to providing assistance to persons who may be in danger of losing their home. The Deputy will be aware that insolvent persons seeking legal advice and assistance in relation to repossession proceedings against their home may be able to avail of such advice through the Abhaile scheme, the Government’s free mortgage arrears support service, launched by the Government in October 2016.
Under Abhaile, the borrower can obtain free independent financial advice and negotiation assistance from a Personal Insolvency Practitioner, a MABS Dedicated Mortgage Arrears adviser, and/or an accountant. This service includes detailed analysis of the borrower’s individual financial situation and home mortgage arrears, identifying their best option to resolve their arrears with priority to remaining in their home wherever possible, and negotiation assistance to get a solution into place.
Abhaile is not focused on bringing challenges to repossession proceedings because in most cases this will not help the borrower, for the reasons explained above. Instead, Abhaile focuses on solving the borrower’s substantive problem, by getting in place a solution to the arrears themselves – at the same time, keeping the borrower in their home and helping them back to solvency. This is a far more sustainable and effective focus for public intervention – both more effective for borrowers, and better for taxpayers.