ECONOMY

Number of indebted households turning to courts for a settlement with banks skyrockets

Some 80,000 applications have flooded Greece’s justice of the peace courts in the past six months from individuals seeking to ease the terms of their bank loans, with court officials saying that they are assigning hearing dates all the way up to 2025 to deal with the workload.

The number of people trying to restructure their debts as they struggle with the crisis and increasing taxation demands has doubled in comparison to the start of 2013 and is growing proportionally to rising unemployment rates, even though the country’s banks have already reached restructuring agreements with over 800,000 debt holders.

The justice of the peace courts, meanwhile, have already heard 7,600 applications, rejecting 35 percent and sending the other 65 percent to trial.

According to Iakovos Venieris, a lecturer at Athens University’s Law School, the fact that an application is accepted by a justice of the peace court does not mean that a settlement will be reached between the borrower and the lender. It simply means that the court accepts that the borrower meets the requirements of Law 3869/2010 – colloquially known as the “Katseli Law” after the lawmaker who drafted it, Louka Katseli – which is designed to help indebted households compel banks to restructure their loans according to their new financial circumstances.

Venieris says that a cursory glance at the decisions issued by Greek courts on debt-restructuring cases reveals that the average reduction of debt granted to applicants is around 35 percent, and while there have been a few rulings whereby individuals have seen their debt written off almost entirely, at 0.4 percent the number is too small to really matter.

Skyrocketing unemployment, around 27 percent, has led to hundreds of thousands of households and businesses not being able to make good on their financial obligations. The circumstances that led to households stopping their debt repayments are one of the factors that are closely studied by justice of the peace courts, along with their overall financial profile and assets.

According to the latest available data, the percentage of loans that were not being serviced reached 27.8 percent in March, amounting to 64 billion euros, from a total of 228 billion euros owed to all Greek banks in business, mortgage and consumer loans over the same period.

Data from the banks suggest that the number of settlements made so far cover 800,000 loans, many of which have been restructured more than once and some of which have been classified as nonperforming. According to the data compiled for the last evaluation of the Greek economy, banks have restructured some 6 percent of their total loan portfolios. This represents 13 billion euros’ worth of debts, 45 percent of which is in the form of business loans, while at the same time write-offs account for 4 billion euros, shooting the total amount owed in problematic loans close to 100 billion euros.

Bank data show that by the end of 2012, of the total 1.1 million mortgage loans issued by Greek banks, some 300,000 presented problems in their servicing, while those that are paid regularly dropped from 960,000 in 2011 to 850,000 the following year. One in four mortgage loans were classified as nonperforming in 2012, while consumer loans where installments were delayed for more than three months rose to 710,000 in 2012 from 540,000 the previous year.

The picture for the consumer credit market, meanwhile, shows that one in 2.5 consumer loans are on shaky ground and that the number of those that are serviced regularly dropped from 2 million at the end of 2011 to 1.7 million at the end of the following year. Likewise, one in five credit cards has two months of overdue payments, while those that have not been paid for three months rose from 465,000 to 610,000 from late 2011 to late 2012.

As far as the number of loan and credit card holders who faced legal action is concerned, this shot up in the period from 2005 to 2012, reaching 1.5 million from 400,000. More specifically, the number of bad loans reached 620,000 in 2012 from 180,000 in 2005 and the number of credit cards shot up to 880,000 compared to 220,000 in 2005.

A look at the applications submitted by troubled borrowers reveals that one in three has absolutely no assets whatsoever and just two in three have assets (including those with mortgages). This suggests that the debts arise mainly from consumer and business loans without collateral rather than mortgage loans. Nevertheless, an increasing number of applicants are seeking easier repayment terms even though banks are not entitled to seize their incomes to pay off their debts.

Moreover, the flow of applications for the Katseli Law to be invoked does not appear to have been stemmed by a recent regulation that forces applicants to pay at least 10 percent of the amount due according to their last notification.

It is worth noting that the law also allows recourse for professionals who are no longer in business, a recent development that has exponentially increased the number of applicants.