‘Every day’s a school day’ as the saying goes. Yesterday was no exception.
My family and I live in an old cottage in Meath. My husband and I bought it back in 2001 and it was an old thatched cottage then. The thatch was an old straw thatch though and was in extreme disrepair, so much so that it was really patchy, liquefying and trailing down the walls of the cottage. It wasn’t liveable so it was a year of paying the mortgage before we could afford to do any work. My builder Dad (lucky him!) got to manage the re-build of the cottage – a job he thanked me for at many times over the years…NOT! And it took us many years combined with a number of ridiculous re-mortgages that, honestly, should never have been offered to us. We started with a kitchen/dining/living room, toilet and a bedroom. A couple of years later, two more rooms and some time after that, the last room. This was not a ‘buy and move on’ transition house – this was an invest a large part of yourself house; a blood, sweat and tears home. My Dad did lovely brickwork in the kitchen and bathroom – we have imprinted ourselves in this space. And it’s now the home of our two boys who love it and love the space.
Yesterday, we were in the Circuit Court for our first appearance in relation to action being taken by the Bank who holds our mortgage to repossess our home. How did we end up here? A perfectly legitimate question. Here’s a little of the back story – my husband had back surgery in 2014 which was unsuccessful followed by further more extensive spinal surgery early this year. Unfortunately, this too was not successful. He has mobility in that he can walk and drive short distances however, he has been out of his job for the last 2 years. On good days, he can dress himself and function with straight forward tasks independently. On bad days, he can’t. He simply can’t function. So for the foreseeable future, he cannot work. He is a qualified Horticulturalist working for a County Council. You may think that he was lucky to be working for the Council in these circumstances but no, I have to say this is not the case. They stopped paying him in April 2014 without notice and have barely made any contact with him despite his injury being an occupational one, hence our current situation. I am a civil servant (not the senior, golden handshake level though!) and I have had numerous pay cuts that have seriously hindered our situation too. There are more ins and outs and ups and downs to our tale but that’s the guts of it right there. We simply could not and can not make ends meet. Let me be clear here, I am not making excuses. I am stating facts. Let me also be clear, I have been determined not to be controlled by this situation. However, I have felt suffocated by it, at times angry, at times so sad. I lose a lot of sleep and indeed often cry myself to sleep with worry and distress. But I feel it’s important to share that I have never felt ashamed. These are things that we as a family cannot control, these are things that say nothing about the people we are, these are things that can be resolved through communication and determination. We have responsibilities and we have communicated our circumstances with our mortgage company however our value is not determined by an institutions rules and regulations. We are not defined by this experience.
We are not the only people in the country in these circumstances. Yesterday, the court room was full of people in similar situations to us. The room was full of men and women, furtively glancing around at each other – the odd one exchanging a small nervous almost smile, barely making eye contact before quickly looking down and away. We are dealing with the Irish Mortgage Holders Organisation, who have been excellent in their advice through this very extended stressful time and they provide their services free of charge. Our contact there advised us that as this is our first appearance, there will be an automatic adjournment to a later date. We also got legal advice and we were advised the very same information. I have to say, even though I trusted this advice from extremely reliable sources, I sat there in that court room with my heart in my mouth. My palms were sweaty, I could feel my heartbeat in my scalp and my toes. The Judge arrived in, we all stood and fidgeted for a moment watching each other for the signal to sit. She was a very pleasant Judge I have to say, not that I’ve had much experience of Judges, but she took a moment before proceedings began to reassure everyone in the room that the proceedings were not something to be scared of. That she would be doing all that she could to enable and facilitate each case to access any assistance that is available to them to reach a favourable conclusion to their case. She said that the actual number of repossessions in Ireland is extremely few and while they do get media coverage, the number is very low. She explained that outside the courtroom, there were representatives from MABS – Money Advice & Budgeting Service and the Insolvency Service of Ireland should anyone need to access their services. The few moments that this Judge took to reassure the anxiety that was clearly present in the room made all the difference to people. There seemed to be a collective palpable, albeit silent, sigh of relief. And so began proceedings, each case called by name – complicated cases held until the end, straight forward ones dealt with efficiently and swiftly. We were case 43 and we were not last on the list. We were adjourned for 6 months as a first time case. A proposal has been submitted by the Irish Mortgage Holders Organisation on our behalf to our Bank who are actively considering our position right now. So we continue to wait at the mercy of the Bank.
So why am I sharing these personal, intimate details of this part of our lives? While I have started this blog with the whole purpose of sharing, my personal financial breakdown won’t be playing a frontline role on a regular basis! I’m sharing because I want others to know about the process and to not be afraid of it…well, not as afraid as I was. I’m sharing because I am reading so much about what measures the banks are taking to ‘tackle the arrears problem’, to ‘reduce their liabilities’, to ‘claw back as much of the losses incurred in the crash as possible’. I am reading about the measures agreed with the Banks to deal with those in arrears in the correct way so that there is some sort of fairness in the procedures. I am reading about the cases (few as they may be) where people are being forcibly removed from their homes. I keep thinking one question – what are the people in positions of power doing in this country to help people like me?? I mean really help – not just produce guidelines that, in my opinion, are governed by the banks on how we are to be dealt with, or build a specific service to deal with this problem that dictates where you can do your grocery shopping and whether you are spending too much on food?! They allow the banks and creditors such veto powers that they can dictate arrangements and allow the Personal Insolvency Practitioners charge substantial fees that are added to the settlement of debt? This does not help people already crippled by debt, distress and fear who, for the most part, had no control ending up in their situation. Believe me, no sane person would willingly put themselves in this position. This Government has a lot to answer for in many areas – people struggling to keep their homes, people losing their homes, people living on the streets – where are the real priorities? We hope to be lucky enough to reach an agreement but there are no guarantees. We can only continue to wait.
This much I will guarantee however, I will be chained to the gates of my home before I give it up. I’ve sacrificed too much already for it…and I won’t give up without one hell of a fight!