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Low level of legal representation in mortgage cases

19 May 2020 / justice Print

Low level of legal representation in mortgage cases

A study of mortage possession cases which came before the courts last year has found that only a quarter of borrowers had any listed legal representation, while 7% of borrowers represented themselves.

The research, published by the Centre for Housing Law, Rights and Policy at NUI Galway, looked at 12,650 mortgage cases which were heard between April and December last year.

Pro bono

It found that, where legal firms represented borrowers, these were mainly local solicitor firms. “There is much anecdotal evidence that much of this work is carried out pro bono. Legal Aid is provided only to a tiny number of people, and the result is that many are left to represent themselves,” the research finds.

The study says almost half of the cases were taken by the major banks which are supervised by the European Central Bank – AIB. Bank of Ireland, Ulster Bank or KBC.

Permanent TSB

In addition, a fifth of cases were taken by Permanent TSB, which is supervised by the Central Bank. A third of cases were taken by so-called ‘vulture’ funds.

“Important questions arise about the high level of possession proceedings being taken by one relatively small financial entity which is 75% State owned,”, the study says in reference to Permanent TSB.


A quarter of the cases were concluded in the period, with a third resulting in court orders for possession or sale, and two-thirds ending with arrears remaining.

The NUI researchers say a pattern of courts refusing three possession orders for every two granted has not changed since 2013.

They also found higher numbers of cases in the South East and Midlands Circuits compared with other regions.

Of the sample studied, 8,505 (67%) were on the County Registrars Lists, 1,467 (12%) on the Callover Lists, and some 2,678 (21%) on the Circuit Court Judges List. There were 5,340 unique cases, excluding duplicate listings, which can occur due to a number of factors including adjournments or separate hearings.


The study says COVID-19 will inevitably result in a new round of mortgage arrears, and many of the challenges of the last decade will re-emerge. It adds, however, that mortgage borrowers can now rely on the additional legal protections which have been slowly developed since the crash of 2008.

The NUI researchers also say that women are more heavily impacted by these actions of financial entities. “And yet, despite legal obligations on equality, no State agency addresses gender in its reports,” they add.

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