REPOSSESSIONS in Dungannon have more than doubled since 2007, the start of the economic downturn, leading to urgent calls for new measures to protect indebted households.
A total of 389 homes have been seized by banks and building societies in the Dungannon District area over the past four years, with 95 repossessed last year, according to latest figures.
The total has risen steeply from 43 in 2007.
In another sign of how the slump is hitting hard more than six people are going bankrupt in the local area every month, double the rate four years ago.
Some are property developers owing millions because of their failed schemes, others are ordinary householders struggling with mortgage payments and credit card debt.
The picture is just as bad in the Cookstown district, where repossessions have risen from 30 to 68 in the same period, according to grim figures released by the Courts Service of Northern Ireland.
The news follows gloomy property market reports which show that local house prices continue to plummet, with a 30% drop in the past year.
It is feared that with further public sector cuts due in Northern Ireland, home repossessions and individual bankruptcies will rise significantly further.
Dungannon Sinn Fein Councillor Dominic Molloy accused the banks of having ‘serious double standards’ in the way they dealt with indebted homeowners.
“The dramatic increase in house repossessions by banks, building societies and their agents is a cause of great concern”, he said.
“The readiness of some financial institutions to step in and evict home owners who have fallen into arrears, the majority through no fault of their own, smacks of serious double standards when many of the same said institutions encouraged wide scale borrowing in the first place.
“Across Ireland on a daily basis we now see scenes all too reminiscent of those over 150 years ago when tyrant landlords turned thousands out of their homes and into the gutter cold and hungry. It’s a sad indictment on Irish society that such practices have returned to be so commonplace.”
The Dungannon representative appealed to banks to take ‘a long hard look’ at the situation.
“Prior to 2007, repossession was virtually unheard off in the private dwelling sector and banks must surely be aware of the stigma that surrounds it. A stigma that on top of debt, unemployment etc, can bring about serious physical and mental health issues ensuring a never ending cycle of despair that many can find no way out of.
“At a local level Sinn Féin are continuing to assist through our advice centres and also working with Anti Poverty and Regeneration groups to ensure that investment and relief projects are targeted at those most in need.
“Our main advice to anyone finding themselves in difficulties is not to ignore the situation, seek advice at the earliest opportunity and explore and discuss all the possible options open to you.”
The Housing Rights Service (HRS) advice charity has reported that demand for mortgage debt advice is at an all-time high. It said that, compared to last year, there has been a 50% increase in the numbers of struggling homeowners coming to their service.
Ursula Toner, legal advice services manager with Housing Rights Service, said: “We are not surprised that the number of local families facing the trauma of losing their homes has increased. A lot of our clients have experienced an income shock, such as a pay reduction or actual redundancy.”
Ms Toner said that Stormont must now introduce measures to help prevent homeowners from losing their properties.
“We need a range of tools to help tackle this problem. We recommend that Government establishes a Preventing Possession fund to finance initiatives for struggling homeowners. This fund could provide loans to help pay off arrears and support the introduction of a mortgage rescue scheme to allow homeowners to remain in their homes as tenants,” she said.