Your best shot at saving your home is to get advice and go to your hearing. There will often be a solicitor from Housing Rights at court on the day of your hearing who can represent you in front of the Master.
The hearing will take place in the Royal Courts of Justice in Belfast. It is a civil matter. This is not the same as going to a criminal court. There is no risk of you being sent to prison if you have mortgage arrears.
Location of the hearing
Your lender or freeholder has to apply to court before they can take your home. The papers you get from your lender’s solicitor will tell you the address of the court where the hearing will take place. This is usually the Chancery Division of the High Court. The Court Service website provides directions to the court and information about public transport links.
Hearings are usually held in the judge's private room, known as Chambers. The judge is called a Master in possession proceedings.
Arriving at court
The court papers will tell you when your case will be heard. Arrive at the court in good time. Your court papers should tell you where to go; ask at the front desk of court to be directed to the right place. There is usually a list of all cases to be heard that day outside the Chancery Master's chambers.
As there may be a lot of cases to be heard, you may have a long wait until your case is called. However if you don't arrive at court at the time stated in your papers you could miss your hearing.
If you haven’t received advice, check if there is a specialist adviser present in court on the day of your hearing. There will probably be an adviser from Housing Rights in attendance at the court on the day of your hearing. You can ask this adviser to represent you in court if you don't have a solicitor or another adviser with you. There is no charge for this service.
Who else will be there?
Your hearing will not be in a public or open court. It will be in the Chancery Master's private chambers. The lender will usually be represented by a solicitor. You are free to bring a solicitor or an adviser. Solicitors will usually charge for this service but you may be able to get free advice and representation from an agency like Housing Rights.
You must check with the Master if you want this person to speak for you. Remember that the Master’s Chambers is a private room and not an open court; you will need permission if you want somebody to represent you before the Master.
What happens at the hearing?
You will be called into the Master’s chambers. Usually the lender or their solicitor speaks first and explains why they have taken action to repossess your home. Your representative or the lender's solicitor can put questions to the Master which the Master can then ask you. The Master acts as a sort of go-between, your lender won't question you directly. You can watch a video, shot by Housing Rights, that shows what you can expect if you have to go to court.
You, or your representative will also have the opportunity to speak. You can tell the court why you shouldn't lose your home or why the repossession should be delayed. The Master can ask either side questions at any time. The Master may decide you shouldn't lose your home if:
- you have paid off your arrears
- you are making regular repayments to reduce the debt
- you will soon be able to make sufficient payments to repay the arrears
- you are trying to sell your home.
You will need to be able to provide a proposal detailing exactly how you will pay off the arrears. This should be realistic and achievable. There's no point in submitting a proposal which you can't stick to. If the Master feels that the case is too complicated to decide at this hearing, he or she can set a date for a new hearing.
The Master's decision
When the Master has heard the arguments from both sides and looked at all the evidence, he or she will make a decision on what should happen. If you don't understand the decision, you can ask the Master to explain what it means. A written copy of the decision should be sent to you by the lender after the hearing.
If your lender or freeholder starts court action against you, you will probably have to pay their legal costs. These costs are added onto your mortgage account.
If you haven’t received advice up before going to court, check if there is a specialist adviser present in court on the day of your hearing. The adviser may be able to provide free, independent advice for people involved in possession proceedings who do not have legal representation.