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F R E E L E G A L A D V I C E C E N T R E S
Since May 2014, FLAC has beenworking on a report that details theStates performance on fulfillingeconomic, social and cultural rights inIreland from the perspective of civilsociety groups on the ground. This workis part of the United Nations reportingprocess under the International Covenanton Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, atreaty that Ireland ratified in 1989. TheIrish State has legal obligations under thistreaty to respect, protect and promote
economic, social and cultural rights inIreland.
Under the reporting process, theGovernment must submit a State reportto the UN Committee on Economic,Social and Cultural Rights every five years.Ireland has not reported to thisCommittee since 2002; during this timethe country has experienced a seismiceconomic and social shift, affecting allrights protected under this covenant.
The state report documents progress oneach covenant article. The State is thencalled to appear in Geneva forexamination by the Committee on a list ofhuman rights issues that the Committeedeems most urgent or important underICESCR. As part of the reporting andexamination process, civil society bodiesin a country can put together analternative parallel or shadow report tothe State report on how the governmentis meeting its human rights duties.
Telling the true story about human rights in Ireland:
FLAC submits alternative ICESCR report to the United Nations
C ontinued on page 7
Updated mortgage arrears figurescovering the second quarter of2014 were released by the Centralbank on 2 September. Again they showedan overall reduction in the number offamily homes in mortgage arrears. How -ever FLAC identified three issues ofconcern in the fresh data: the continuedincrease in longer-term arrears cases, anaccelerated rate of applications torepossess homes, and the arguably dubioussustainability of mortgage re structures.
While it is clear that all other categoriesof accounts in mortgage arrears havedecreased, the number of accounts inarrears for more than two years,worryingly, continues to rise; the lateststats show this is up by 5%. In addition theamount of arrears on these accounts isnow an average of 47,300 per account.Further, the number of new applicationsto repossess houses in the second quarterwas 3,274, the highest quarterly figure yet.FLAC Senior Policy Analyst Paul Joycecommented at the time that [t]his meansthat nearly 10,000 new applications torepossess family homes were made in the12 months from July 2013 to the end ofJune 1024. So far, these applications torepossess are not resulting in large-scalerepossessions. Nonetheless, in nearly 300cases, the court granted an order for saleor repossession in Q2 2014.
FLAC also noted that in the secondquarter of 2014 there was a 10% increasein the number of restructured accounts.However it is clear that this increase was
almost entirely attributable to the cap -italisa tion of existing arrears and theimplementation of certain debt reliefmechanisms, in particular split mortgages.FLAC has questioned and is continuing toquestion the sustainability of these sortsof deals. There is little detailed informa -tion on how restructured cases areprogressing in the long term and thismakes it impossible to determine howeffective they are as a long-term re -structuring mechanism.
FLAC Director General Noeline blackwellcommented that the trends from theCentral bank are consistent with whatwe see across all our areas of work inFLAC, whether on our telephoneinforma tion line or in our work on socialwelfare law. We find that more of ourcontacts are from people who are indeeper difficulty, giving rise to a worrythat those who became seriously over-indebted at the start of the economiccrisis are not pulling out of difficulty now,but rather becoming mired more deeply.
FLACs concern is that with the budget tobe announced in october, those in long-term mortgage arrears as well as thosewho remain in poverty as a result of therecession will again not be given dueconsideration and will be left withoutadequate support systems, exacerbatingtheir situations. The lack of adequatesupport systems mean that thesevulnerable individuals are effectively left tofend for themselves in situations that arevery difficult and often complicated onlegal, social and financial levels.
flac News | Vol. 24, No. 3
in this edition...
Telling the true story about human rights in Ireland: FLAC submitsalternative ICESCR report 1, 7
Latest mortgage arrears figures showworrying signs 2
oireachtas Committee examines legal protection for consumers 3
Inside the Centre: Clare FLAC 4-5
UCD Social Protection PolicyWorkshop 6
Human Rights-based budgets Q&A with Prof Aoife Nolan 8-9
Fairer society using human rightsbudgeting 10
Focus on FLA C Vo lunteer ing:
FLAC Student Societies fresh-er start 11
FLAC volunteer awards 11
International forum on pro bono 12Case study: A&L Goodbody 12
Focus on PILA :
Eithne Lynch, PILA Legal officer 13
PILS Project NI hosts roundtablediscussion on protective cost orders 13
Introducing CLM 14
40th anniversary celebrations inTipperary CIC 15
Tipperary civil legal aid workshophighlights severe shortcomings in system
16Friends of FLAC programme to raisemuch-needed funds 16
FLA C News is published quarterly byFree Legal Advice Centres Ltd., 13 Lower Dorset Street, Dublin 1.
Editors: Amy Smyth & Yvonne WoodsContributors: Noeline blackwell, ColumbFortune, Amy Heffron, Catherine Hickey, PaulJoyce, Liz oMalley, Yvonne oSullivan, ProfAoife Nolan, Rachel Power, Sinead Smith,Amy Smyth, Eamonn Tansey, Fionn Toland,Rose Wall, Yvonne Woods, Zs Varga
Photos: FLAC, CLM, Jarek Dudek, PatrickGruban, Derek Speirs
Layout & Printing: Printwell Design, D3
ISSN 07914148The views of individual contributors do notnecessarily represent the views of FLAC.
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Latest mortgage arrears figuresshow worrying signs
Oireachtas Committee examines legalprotection for consumers
flac News | Vol. 24, No. 3
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Continued on page 7
Many people are aware of FLACscampaign work on reform of thelaw governing personal insol vencyand bankruptcy, for changes to the legalsystem concerning the enforcement ofdebts in the courts and for a pragmaticapproach to be taken to resolving mort -gage debt so as to avoid, whereverpossible, the repossession of family homes.
However, a complementary strand of ourwork is around campaigning to improvelegal protection for consumers of creditand associated services and to strengthenthe systems of complaint and redress forconsumers unhappy with the conduct offinancial services providers. Earlier thisyear, FLAC produced Redressing theImbalance, a ground-breaking analysis ofstate legal protections to those availing ofcredit from banks, hire-purchasecompanies, credit unions and other financesuppliers. The report argued that there arewide ranging flaws and gaps in theconsumer credit infrastructure which arisefrom a confusing regulatory landscape andan approach which prioritises theconvenience of financial providers over theneeds and rights of consumers.
Importantly, Redressing the Imbalanceincludes interviews with consumers ontheir experiences with using the redresssystems available to them. These do notpaint a happy picture, with manyconsumers dissatisfied at the attemptedresolution of their complaints to theFinancial Services ombudsman, and theconclusion is that this office should beindependently evaluated and its systemsmade more transparent.
Accordingly, FLAC was delighted to beasked to present the findings of the reportto the joint oireachtas Committee onPublic Service oversight & Petitions on 17September, the first day of the newoireachtas term. Principal author of thereport and FLAC Senior Policy Analyst, PaulJoyce, made the presentation along withFLAC Director General Noeline blackwell.
The main focus for FLAC in itspresentation was to highlight the reportsmain conclusion there is an over-whelming inequality of arms betweenconsumers and financial institutions whenit comes to complaints and redressmechanisms. Underlying causes such aspoorly transposed, poorly monitored and
poorly enforced EU legislation, and theuneven application and enforcement ofCentral bank codes, were also identified.The FLAC presenters supported the needfor out-of-court redress mechanisms suchas the Financial Services ombudsman, butsaid FLACs research shows thesestructures must be reformed and mademore user-friendly in order to fullyprotect consumers interests.
They also discussed some aspects of thelegislation underlying the office of theFinancial Services ombudsman, especiallythe prohibitive nature and potential costof appeal to the High Court where theconsumer was unhappy with a finding, andthe six-year rule limiting complaints tothe FSo within six years of the conductcomplained about.
Another pressing concern was theremerging use of Hire Purchaseparticularly as a form of credit for carpurchase. Although a lender must providea written HP agreement, it is not legallyobliged to carry out any checks in relationto the suitability of the agreement for theborrowers needs or the borrowerscapacity to service it in terms of
affordability. Hire Purchase financecompanies are not regulated by theCentral bank and the banks ConsumerProtection Code does not apply to them.