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Eviction for mortgage arrears

This advice applies to Northern Ireland

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If you're in mortgage arrears, your mortgage lender will want you to clear them.

If you aren't able to clear them, your lender will try to get you evicted from your home. This is called taking possession. It allows them to sell your property and use the money from the sale to help pay off the debt.

This page tells you:

  • what must happen before your mortgage lender can evict you
  • how you may be able to avoid eviction and keep your home
  • what happens during an eviction for mortgage arrears and when your property can be seized
  • whether you should just hand back your keys to your mortgage lender before you're evicted
  • what responsibilities you have after you're evicted for mortgage arrears, including your financial responsibilities before your property is sold and what happens if the money from the sale isn't enough to repay what you owe.

How your mortgage lender can take possession of your home

Your lender must go through the courts before they can take possession of your property. This is called taking possession action.

Your mortgage lender should not start possession action against you without giving you a reasonable chance to make arrangements to pay off the arrears, if you are able to.

If your lender starts possession action, you will get a claim for possession of property from the county court. This will give you details about a court hearing and full details about the case against you.

At the court hearing, a judge will decide whether or not to grant your lender possession of your home.

This will depend on whether or not you are able to come to an agreement with your lender to pay off the arrears.

If you are able to make an acceptable offer to repay the arrears, the court will make a suspended possession order. This means that, so long as you keep to the terms of the order, you will be able to stay in your home.

However, if the judge decides that you are unable to make an acceptable offer to repay the arrears, they may make an Order for Immediate Possession. This is an order which says that your lender can take possession of your property and that you will have to leave within 28 days.  

After 28 days if you haven't left your home, your mortgage lender will need to apply to the Enforcement of Judgements Office (EJO) to enforce the judgement.  The EJO will initially send you a Notice of Intention to Enforce a non-money Judgement.  

After 10 days the Enforcement of Judgements Office will send you a  ‘Notice of Intention to make an Order of Possession’.  Once this has been served it allows the EJO to take possession of the property and evict you.  You will have to pay the Enforcement of Judgments Office fees.

Changing the court's decision to grant a possession order

Even though the court may have granted your mortgage lender possession of your home, it might still not be too late to stop the eviction going ahead.

Once you receive the Notice of Intention to Enforce a non-money Judgment you have 8 days to object to the order.  This objection should be placed in writing to the Enforcement of Judgments Office and must be based on a legal reason. You can also negotiate with your lender to prevent repossession.You may be able to ask the court to grant another order allowing you to stay in your home.

If you're in this position, you should get advice from an experienced adviser, for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by email, click on nearest CAB.

You may be able to ask the court to:

Withdraw or Suspend an immediate possession order

After the court has made an immediate possession order, you may think that you are able to make an offer to repay the arrears. In this case, you can apply to the court for the order to be suspended. If your offer is acceptable, the court will put any further action on hold.  If you are able to repay the arrears in full the order will be withdrawn.

You may also be able to withdraw or suspend an immediate possession order for other reasons.  For example;

  • if you didn’t receive the court papers
  • you didn’t know you could defend yourself
  • had a good reason for not attending the hearing
  • your circumstances have changed

You will have to apply to the court using a particular form and you will be notified of a court date.  

Appeal against the order

If a possession order is made and you want to appeal that decision you may appeal to the Chancery Judge. You may be able to do this if you think the correct procedures weren't followed, the law wasn't applied properly or the facts the judge used to make a decision at the hearing were wrong. You must issue a Notice of Appeal within 5 days of the decision being made. If you think you have reasons to appeal, you should get expert legal advice.

A Citizens Advice Bureau can also give you advice about how to find expert legal advice. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those which can give advice by email, click on nearest CAB.

What happens after the court hearing

If the court has granted your mortgage lender an Order for Immediate Possession, the order will give a date by which you should leave your home. This is normally 28 days after the hearing. You can ask the court for an extension of this period. You might want to do this if, for example, you need more time to find alternative accommodation.

If the court has made a Suspended Possession Order your lender can apply to the court for leave to apply the possession order if you have not kept to the terms of the order.

You don't have to leave by the date on the possession order. If you haven't left by this date, your lender must apply for an Order for Delivery of Possession of Land.  Your lender can't legally evict you without this.  The date for eviction varies but it will generally take a few months.

You could try and use the time before the Order for Delivery of Possession of Land is granted to try and come to an agreement with your lender which would let you stay in your home. Or you could go back to the court and ask them to vary or postpone the possession order.

Even if your lender has got an Order for Delivery of Possession of Land it's not too late to try and come to an agreement with them or to ask the court to suspend the order.  

You may be able to do this if you want more time to sell the property yourself, or because you are able to make an offer to pay the arrears.

If the court agrees to suspend the order, this will allow you to stay in your property. If you are selling your property, you will still have to leave once the property is sold.

If you want to ask the court to suspend a warrant of possession, you should get advice from an experienced adviser, for example at a Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those which can give advice by email, click on nearest CAB.

What happens during an eviction

In Northern Ireland evictions are carried out by the Enforcement of Judgments Office (EJO).  There is no fixed procedure for an eviction. For example, there are no rules about what time of day officers from the EJO may call, or what they must do or say.

However, they must, act reasonably. They are entitled to use a reasonable amount of force if they need to, to enter your home, to remove you and anyone else who is there.

The officers from the EJO may be supported by the police and whatever other resources they deem necessary.  You will be given a short amount of time to gather some of your personal belongings.  The locks will then be changed to prevent you re-entering. Once the locks have been changed and the home secured the EJO will pass the keys over to your lender.

Your lender has a right to vacant possession of your property which means that all your furniture and belongings must be removed.  The EJO will note and take away your remaining possessions from the property and store them.  You can collect your belongings from the EJO after you pay the EJO’s costs for the eviction.  The EJO say this is on average £500 but can vary depending on circumstances.   

The EJO will store your belongings for a month after which you will get a final 7 day window to pay the costs and collect your belongings.  After this the EJO will sell your belongings at auction.

If you are not at home when the EJO arrive, they are allowed to break in and change the locks. The EJO will store any of your possessions found in the home as described above.

Handing back the keys to your mortgage lender

You may be tempted to just leave the property and hand back the keys to your mortgage lender before they get an immediate possession order. However, you won't gain anything by doing this. You will still be responsible for mortgage payments, buildings insurance and other costs until the property is sold, and will still have to make up any shortfall if the sale doesn't make enough to cover what you owe.

It would be better to try and sell the property yourself, rather than wait to be evicted and let your mortgage lender sell it. With the lender’s agreement you may still be able to sell the property yourself, even if your lender has got an immediate possession order.

Also, if you're thinking about applying to the Northern Ireland Housing Executive (NIHE) to be rehoused as homeless, don't hand back the keys without talking to them first and explaining your situation. The NIHE may consider you intentionally homeless and may not agree to rehouse you.  The NIHE must examine each case on an individual basis.  If you're in this situation, get advice from an experienced adviser.

What happens to your property after you've been evicted

If your mortgage lender has been granted an immeditate possession order, you will still be responsible for the mortgage payments until the property is sold. This is regardless of whether you are still living there. You will also be responsible for the cost of repairs, maintenance and insurance. You should check your insurance policy to see whether it is still valid if you're not living there. However, your lender may insure the property themselves and pass the costs on to you.

Your lender has a duty of care towards you when selling your property. This means that they must get the best price that they can for it. However, in practice, lenders often sell properties at auction, and repossessed properties sold in this way often sell for less than they would on the open market. If you believe that you have been treated unfairly by your lender, for example, because they took a long time to sell your property and your arrears went up because of this, you can complain to the Financial Ombudsman Service.

Once your lender has sold your property they will:

  • take what is owed on the mortgage from the proceeds of the sale
  • deduct any legal and estate agents' fees
  • deduct any sums they have paid for insurance and maintenance of the property
  • repay any other lenders if the property has been used as security for a loan
  • give anything which is left over to you - although there may be nothing left over to give you.
  • For more information about properties which have been used as a security for a loan, see What happens when your mortgage lender takes you to court.

What happens if there is a shortfall

If the money from the sale of the property is not enough to repay what you owe, you will have to pay the difference. This is called a shortfall. The lender will send you a bill for the shortfall. If you are unable to make an arrangement to repay it, your lender may go to court to force you to pay this amount.

In most cases, there is a time limit for your lender to take action to recover a shortfall. The question of time limits for the recovery of a mortgage shortfall can be complicated and it's best to get advice.

If you don't pay off the mortgage shortfall and then buy another property, the lender of your first property may take court action against you. If they get a court order against you and you don't pay up, they could then apply for a charging order against your new property. This means that, when you sell the new property, the proceeds of the sale will be used to repay the shortfall. It is also possible that your lender could get an order for sale of your new home to repay the debt on the previous one.

If you owe a shortfall on your mortgage after you have been evicted for mortgage arrears, you should get expert advice. You can get advice from a Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those which can give advice by email, click on nearest CAB.

If you have other debts besides a mortgage shortfall, you may decide that bankruptcy is the best option for you. If you apply for bankruptcy, you will be able to include the shortfall in your bankruptcy order.

Taking out another mortgage after eviction for mortgage arrears

If you've been evicted for mortgage arrears, you may have problems taking out another mortgage. This is because details of any payments you have missed are held on file by credit reference agencies, such as Experian or Equifax. Mortgage lenders will contact them to find out whether you have a good credit rating.

Your past credit history may not stop you taking out a mortgage, but if you still owe money on a mortgage and try to take out another one, you may have difficulty getting a loan.

Finding somewhere to live after eviction

If you’re evicted and you have nowhere else to live, you may be able to get help from the Housing Executive. They may have a responsibility to rehouse you or help you to find somewhere to live because you are homeless or about to lose your home.

  • For more information about the help the Housing Executive can give you if you're homeless, see Finding accommodation.

Further help

For a list of organisations and websites where you can get more help and information about how to deal with mortgage arrears, see Further help in What happens when your mortgage lender takes you to court.

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