By Niall McCracken
IN data requested from the Northern Ireland Courts Service, we obtained a geographical breakdown of the number of Final Possession Orders across Northern Ireland from 2005-11.
The figures, which are broken up by Local Government District, show that Belfast had the greatest number of possession orders overall with over 1200. Derry was second with 626, followed closely by Lisburn and Newry/Mourne who both had over 500 cases orders granted. For a detailed geographical breakdown please click here.
The figures reflect repossessions of all types of property however domestic properties are believed likely to comprise the majority.
The latest figures from the Housing Conditions Survey from 2011 outline that there were just over 469,000 owner-occupied houses in Northern Ireland in 2009.
However the geographical breakdown for this report was based on the planned reduction in the number of councils from 26 to 11, which was eventually postponed until 2015.
The 2006 Housing Conditions Survey however provides a full breakdown of the owner-occupied properties throughout the 26 council areas.
Using this as a sample year it shows that:
:: with over 468,000 owner-occupied properties, Belfast had the largest share with 67,000 properties;
:: Lisburn had the second-highest number, with almost 30,000;
:: and, despite having the second-highest number of final possession orders issued (636) overall, Derry was fifth, behind Newry/Mourne and Newtownabbey in the number of owner-occupied properties.
The Northern Ireland Courts Service said a geographical breakdown on possession orders for 2011/12 would not be available until later this year.
Further analysis of the Final possession Order data suggests a correlation with the figures for social housing in Northern Ireland.
Total annual social housing waiting list application figures show that there are parallels between the highest areas for waiting list applications and those areas with the highest final possession orders for mortgage repossessions.
The figures from the Northern Ireland Neighbourhood Information Service’s (NNIS) show that eight of the top ten council areas with highest amount of Final Possession Orders also feature in the top ten council areas for NIHE Social Housing waiting lists. A full breakdown of the total social housing applicants (2005-2011) is available at the bottom of this page.
Kate Ward from the Participation and Practice of Rights (PPR) project believes this is an area which deserves more examination.
She said: “The cost of mortgage repossession is obviously felt at a very personal level in that it places enormous stress on individuals and families. The ripple effects of this in terms of housing provision, however, are vast. In particular, whilst many of those whose homes are repossessed will go into the private rented sector, many others will apply for social housing and declare themselves homeless.
“The statistics on home repossessions in Northern Ireland when read alongside existing social housing statistics in relation to both the demand for housing and the increasing numbers of people declaring themselves homeless, are deeply concerning.
“PPR’s work in social housing in north Belfast, an area of chronic housing need, has consistently highlighted a social housing system which fails to provide for the most vulnerable. It is from this experience that it has become clear that the increase in home repossessions will for many be a case of out of the frying pan into the fire.”
There are no figures readily available that provide details of those who apply for social housing because of home repossession. However, In terms of homelessness in Northern Ireland, the impact of repossession can be identified.
Between 2004- 2011, those declaring mortgage default as the reason for homelessness rose from 77 to 200.
While other reasons such as family breakdown or domestic violence rank as the top reasons for homelessness in Northern Ireland, Kate Ward believes the mortgage default figures are alarming because of the increase in recent years.
“If you look at figures as percentages the situation is dire. Of all those presenting as homeless for a variety of reasons, the share of those homeless as a result of mortgage default has more than doubled between 2004-2011,from 0.9% in 2004/2005 to 1.92% in 2010/2011.”
The Enforcement of Judgments Office (EJO) only becomes involved when there is a failure to deliver possession of a property following a final possession order. The office has statutory power to enforce the order. The repossession can be completed in the presence or absence of the debtor who was required to deliver possession of the property to the creditor.
The figures show that there were almost 3,000 orders enforced over the seven year period (2005-2011), the number of orders enforced by the EJO jumped from 200 in 2008 to just short of 1,000 in 2011. The full data is available in an excel spreadsheet below this article.
A spokesperson for the Department of Social Development said: "In Northern Ireland, action to physically repossess a property requires an application to the Enforcement of Judgements Office (EJO) and a creditor may lodge an Order for Possession with EJO for enforcement up to 12 years after it is granted. Therefore, while the number of Orders for Possession and enforcements of Order have increased in the past few years, those who are currently having their homes being physically repossessed may not be those who have had an Order granted against them in the same time period.”
Professor of Housing at the University of Ulster, Paddy Gray says the figures should be put in the context that each one is potentially a family who have lost their home. He said:
“It’s not that long ago that people were basically buying up anywhere, trying to jump on the property ladder. When house prices were rising dramatically, people were jumping on the market as quick as they could without thinking of the consequences.
“No one wants to see anybody losing their property and what people should remember when looking at these figures is that these are people’s lives we’re talking about here. It can break up families, it’s not just the stress of losing the house, the lead up can sometimes be the worst part.
“Debt can accumulate for a long period of time before it gets to the repossession stage, but when it does, the affect it can have on people’s well being and health can’t be under estimated. So in that respect the rise in possession orders and enforced repossessions in Northern Ireland makes for depressing reading.”