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The Homeless Pensioner Time-Bomb:Age Discrimination in Mortgage Arrears Policy

ageism homelessness

Growing numbers of older people face homelessness as a result bank ageism

I had never seen the personification of discriminatory organisational policies before entering the small glass cubicle at the local branch of Permanent TSB that day. I'd never seen it right in front of me and I have to say it is very different from the discrimination we see portrayed and rightly criticised in our mainstream media. There was no anger on display, no foaming mouths and gnashing teeth. Indeed, it was a sanitised, suffocating and uncomfortable affair.


"Does my age go against me?" asked the fifty nine year old homeowner and mother of three as she raised her head from a hanging position similar to that of a school girl in the office of the Headmistress. The bank worker, dashing away on her key-board like a mad genius beating out Rachmaninov on a grand piano, looked up from the screen and pulled a most unusual face, what I can only describe now as the face of "politically correct" institutional discrimination. She drew a deep breathe in whilst at the same time extending the ends of her lips so far apart from each other as to resemble an exagerated clown's smile, teeth clenched as though experiencing a pang of pain. Her head lobbed to one side as she finally stopped drawing breathe. Raising her eyebrows and nodding her head she said "I'm afraid it doesn't help". Tappety, Tappety, Tap went the keyboard once again as numbers were imputed to assess the homeowners "sustainability".



The mother and homeowner remained expressionless. Her head sunken so that only the top of her scalp could be seen by the bank employee, her eyes to the floor. The well-practiced wince-like facial displays of the bank worker mirrored what was genuinely happening in the submissive, all too dignified soul of the poor lady in front of her, a lady now only a former shadow of herself, no longer a complete human being. Here we were in the sanitised setting of a local bank branch where everything is civilised, everything is normal and no one is too happy or sad, and a citizen is being told that due to her age alone she will be made homeless: but there's glass walls so you must stay calm and walk to this ending without objection, its how it's done you know.....


This scene is played out everyday in local bank branches throughout Ireland. The over fifties are being openly discriminated against in the most institutionalised of ways and nothing is being said. Now we are not talking about a handful of people here but rather thousands of our older generation facing homelessness. A previous article on this website highlighted the large numbers of working and middle class parents of young-adult children who were suckered into entering equity release schemes on homes already paid for and who now face eviction.


Each day hundreds of our more senior citizens walk out local bank branch doors on the high street after being told they are no longer viable and that they will have to leave the home in which they reared their children. On the way out they may meet someone they haven't seen in an age, "How are ya?" they are asked. A feigned half smile "I'm great Johnny just great and yerself", doing all they can to conceal the terror and despair they feel inside.  Their journey home is one of self-flagellation, "damn my age, what kind of a fool am I can't even keep a roof over my head at fifty, sixty, seventy years of age?"


Now if a large section of our society was being discriminated against  by high street banks for let's say their religious beliefs, their sexual orientation or the colour of their skin, there would certainly be a public outcry. For some reason ageism appears to be different, the "numbers" we are told just don't add up, and yet they don't add up when talking about solutions for other social groupings experiencing discrimination, but we somehow manage to find it within ourselves to make the numbers add up, to go the extra mile needed.


Not for our elderly though, not for the parents of those who raised the current force in Ireland we call the tax-payer, and I mean the consumer tax payer as well as income tax payer. To our older generations it's ok apparently to excercise blatant discrimination when it comes to their age, discriminaton that is ultimately manifested as facial acrobatics in the local branch offices of our banks. 


We do have laws designed to combat discrimation of many sorts including age-linked discrimination outside of the workplace. The Equal Satus Acts 2000-2004 are quite comprehensive and although in the matter of banking arrears resolution processes such as MARP (Mortgage Arrers Resolution Process) we are unable to find a case yet where an older home owner has cited this legislation in court, we believe there is substance in challenging the banks on their ageist approach to arrears resolution. At the very least it is an avenue of exploration that if presented well within the courts as part of a defence against an Order for Possession of the home may obtain a substantial amount of time for the homeowner. Below is an extract from the legislation to ponder over. It is only an extract from the legislation but we have also posted a link to the consolodated acts below the text.


We hope that by advocating for an end to ageism in the banking arrears industry together we may be one step closer to forcing the hand of the banks to committ to a write-down for all, in arrears or not...... 


3.—(1) For the purposes of this Act, discrimination shall be taken
to occur—
(a) where a person is treated less favourably than another person
is, has been or would be treated in a comparable situation
on any of the grounds specified in subsection (2)
(c) where an apparently neutral provision puts a person
referred to in any paragraph of section 3(2) at a particular
disadvantage compared with other persons, unless the
provision is objectively justified by a legitimate aim and
the means of achieving that aim are appropriate and
(2) As between any two persons, the discriminatory grounds (and
the descriptions of those grounds for the purposes of this Act) are:
(f) subject to subsection (3), that they are of different ages (the
‘‘age ground’’)
Link to consolidated texts of the equal Status Acts 2000 - 2004

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