Judge warns of ‘snake-oil salesmen’ who take advantage of vulnerable people

Couple lose home they had put into trust to protect it from repossession

Irish Times / Dec 3rd 2013 / By Fiona Gartland

A High Court judge has warned of “latter-day snake-oil salesmen” who take advantage of vulnerable people after a couple told him they had put their family home into a trust to protect it from repossession.

The couple, from Co Laois who have four children, had taken out a mortgage of almost €240,000 in March 2008 with Stepstone Mortgage Funding Ltd and began falling behind with their repayments three months later.

They owed arrears of more than €104,000. Counsel for the lender said the couple last made a repayment in June 2011.

The couple told Mr Justice Brian McGovern they were both on social welfare and had an income of €400 a week. They had offered to repay €150 a month to the lender but the offer was refused.

They said they had asked the lender to freeze the interest and also enlisted the help of Charlie Flanagan TD, who assisted them in filling out a financial statement.

The woman said her husband had tried to get work on the oil rigs, but had not been successful and there was no work in their area.

“We have tried everything,” she said. She told the judge she had four girls at home aged 11, 12, 15 and 20 years. One of her daughters was being treated for depression because of the worry about losing their home.

She said the family felt they had been “humiliated long enough”.

She also said they were no longer owners of their home as they had put it in a trust. She handed a document into the court, but after looking at it the judge returned it.

“It is not your fault . . . but this doesn’t mean anything,” he said. The judge asked the couple if they had been charged money to enter the trust. They said they had not.

The judge said the couple were not the first people and would not be the last to do this.

“It upsets me that people who are vulnerable are taken advantage of by latter-day snake-oil salesmen,” he said.

He also noted the lender was “sub-prime” and the couple “paid higher interest”, but there was nothing he could do. They had borrowed the money and could not repay it. Every month that went by their situation deteriorated, he said.

Counsel for the lender said Stepstone had never received a properly filled out financial statement from the couple.

Mr Justice McGovern granted the order for possession with a stay of nine months.

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