Abhaile - free mortgage arrears support
If you are in serious mortgage arrears on your home, if you are unable to pay your debts, and if your mortgage lender has begun to take legal action, you may be able to access the Abhaile scheme for borrowers in home mortgage arrears. This scheme provides a range of services to help you to deal with your situation, including financial advice, legal advice and insolvency advice.
Abhaile is coordinated by the Department of Justice and Equality and the Department of Social Protection and is operated by the Money Advice and Budgeting Service (MABS) in conjunction with the Insolvency Service of Ireland (ISI), the Legal Aid Board and the Citizens Information Board.
Panels of qualified and regulated professionals have been set up to provide services under the Scheme. MABS also has a network of Dedicated Mortgage Arrears (DMA) advisers to provide independent expert advice to people in difficulty with mortgage arrears.
Who is eligible?
You will be eligible for advice and assistance under the Scheme if:
- You are insolvent – this means that you are unable to pay your debts in full as they fall due and
- You are in mortgage arrears on your home and
- You are at risk of losing your home (for example, if your mortgage lender has initiated repossession proceedings or indicated that they plan to do so; if they have said that they consider you to be non-cooperating; or if they have asked you to consider selling or surrendering your home)
However, even if the above conditions are satisfied, you will not be eligible for the Scheme if your home is disproportionate to your reasonable living accommodation needs, as set out at section 104 of the Personal Insolvency Act 2012.
If your mortgage arrears relate only to a buy-to-let property, you are not covered by the Scheme. However, if you are in mortgage arrears on your home, and you also own a buy-to-let, you will still be eligible if you satisfy the above conditions.
You are eligible for the Personal Insolvency Court Review Service under the Scheme (see below) if you are insolvent and in mortgage arrears and your creditors have rejected your proposal for a Personal Insolvency Arrangement (PIA) that included your home.
What services are provided?
There are 5 separate advice and assistance services available under the Scheme, as follows:
Personal Insolvency Practitioner (PIP) service
A panel of Personal Insolvency Practitioners (pdf) has been set up under the Scheme. If you wish to explore your options under personal insolvency, MABS can give you a voucher for free advice and help from one of these PIPs. You can choose your PIP from the Scheme panel, subject to availability.
The voucher will entitle you to a face-to-face consultation with a PIP. The PIP will carry out a full assessment of your financial situation, explain all the available options and the best option for you to deal with your mortgage arrears, and confirm that advice to you in writing. The PIP will also prepare a Prescribed Financial Statement (PFS) with you. This is a detailed written analysis of your financial situation, as required under the personal insolvency legislation.
If the PIP advises that your best option is personal insolvency, they will help you in taking the next steps. If they advise that your best option is bankruptcy, they will also provide you with the certificate required by the bankruptcy court, confirming that you have been advised regarding your options under personal insolvency.
If your case involves complicated financial issues, but is not suited to personal insolvency, MABS can give you a voucher for free financial advice from an accountant under the Scheme. A new accountancy panel is being set up, listing accountants who participate in the Scheme. You can choose your accountant from this panel, subject to availability.
You will first need to work with a MABS adviser to complete the Standard Financial Statement (SFS) that lenders require under the Mortgage Arrears Resolution Process (MARP). The accountant will need a copy of this statement in order to give you financial advice.
The voucher will entitle you to a face-to-face consultation with the panel accountant. The accountant will advise you on any financial issues relating to resolution of your mortgage arrears and advise you on possible solutions, and will confirm that advice to you in writing.
Consultation solicitor service
After you have completed your Prescribed Financial Statement or Standard Financial Statement and received financial advice under the Scheme, your financial adviser (PIP, MABS adviser or accountant) may recommend that you also consult a solicitor if your case raises legal issues. For example, your mortgage lender may have written to you, seeking repossession of your home or proposing that you surrender it.
Your financial adviser can apply to MABS for a legal advice voucher on your behalf. You can then choose a solicitor from the panel that has been set up under the Scheme (subject to availability).
The legal advice voucher will entitle you to a face-to-face consultation with a solicitor. The consultation solicitor will assess and explain your legal position, and will advise you on any repossession proceedings and on any legal issues relating to your mortgage arrears. The solicitor will also confirm that legal advice to you in writing. If the lender has already issued repossession proceedings, the consultation solicitor may, in certain circumstances, be able to negotiate on your behalf to settle the proceedings out of court.
It is important to note that the solicitor will need to see any documents that are relevant in your case, particularly your up-to-date financial statement and any written financial advice that you have received under the Scheme.
Duty solicitor service
If you are facing Circuit Court repossession proceedings, you may be able to get some help at Court from the duty solicitor. This is a solicitor from the Scheme’s solicitor panel (see above) who is normally on duty at a Circuit Court on repossession hearing dates. You cannot choose the duty solicitor, as the Legal Aid Board assigns solicitors from the panel to attend on particular dates.
The duty solicitor service is a limited service to provide advice and help to unrepresented borrowers at court. Your consultation solicitor will explain this in more detail.
Normally, you should already have obtained written financial and legal advice under the Scheme, including advice from the consultation solicitor on any repossession proceedings.
If you have not applied in time to get such advice, the duty solicitor may still be able to give you some more limited help, but only if you have already applied to MABS. If your mortgage lender has already issued repossession proceedings against your home, and you have not yet applied for the Scheme, you should contact MABS as soon as possible – see ‘Where to apply’ below.
The duty solicitor may be able to speak for you in Court, to explain what steps you are taking to try and deal with your mortgage arrears, and may be able to apply for the proceedings to be adjourned if you are trying to put a solution in place. They may also be able to explain to you what is happening in the proceedings.
However, they may be helping several Scheme borrowers in court on that day, so you should attend well in advance of the time shown on the Court papers, and you should ask for MABS when you arrive. (MABS advisers also attend at the Circuit Court on repossession hearing dates, to provide information and support. However, they cannot give legal advice or speak for you in Court.)
The duty solicitor cannot act as your legal aid solicitor or defend the repossession proceedings on your behalf. This Scheme does not cover legal aid for defending repossession proceedings. If you have a valid legal defence to the repossession and want to apply for legal aid, you should apply for that to the Legal Aid Board, separately from this Scheme.
Personal insolvency court review service
If you have already worked with a PIP and have proposed a Personal Insolvency Arrangement (PIA) to your creditors, but the creditors have refused your proposal, you can ask the Courts to review it.
Under this element of the Aid and Advice Scheme, the Legal Aid Board can provide you with legal representation by a solicitor and barrister in seeking a Court review of your PIA proposal. If the Court agrees that the proposal is overall fair and reasonable, using the criteria set out in section 115A of the Personal Insolvency Act 2012, it can impose the proposal on your creditors.
Your PIP will apply to the Legal Aid Board for legal representation on your behalf. The PIP must certify to the Board that you have reasonable grounds for seeking the court review and that you satisfy the other conditions for review laid down by the Personal Insolvency Acts 2012 to 2015 (pdf).
If the Legal Aid Board is satisfied with the application, it will grant you a Legal Aid Certificate. You and your PIP can then select a solicitor from the Scheme solicitors’ panel to act on your behalf. (Under the Personal Insolvency Acts, it is your PIP who must apply to Court on your behalf for the review.) The Legal Aid Board will normally also cover the cost of a barrister from the Civil Legal Aid barristers’ panel.
Abhaile services are provided free of charge to eligible borrowers.
Where to apply
Ring the MABS Helpline: 0761 07 2000 (9am - 8pm, Monday - Friday) or contact your local MABS office.