By Charlie Weston Personal Finance Editor Irish Independent

Tuesday February 14 2012

CREDIT unions are taking an increasingly heavy-handed approach to those in debt, it has emerged.

Struggling consumers have been hit with debt judgments worth €3m in the past week, with credit unions taking more of the actions than banks and other creditors.

The co-operative lenders are opting to take members to court to force the repayment of an outstanding loan, with the average value being €7,000.

The arrears of the State's 407 credit unions have now risen to €1bn and the latest figures from 'Stubbs Gazette' show that credit unions continue to top the list of those securing registered judgments.

The co-operative lenders were traditionally reluctant to take legal action against borrowers.

But lately they have turned to the courts to get money back if they feel they have no other options.

If someone fails to pay a debt, their creditor can go to court and get a court judgment confirming the money is owed.

The creditor can then enforce the judgment by having goods seized or getting the court to put in place an instalment order where a certain amount of money has to be paid back weekly to the creditor.

Registering the judgment in the High Court Central Office means the details will be published in a trade gazette.

The judgment can also be registered as a mortgage over the debtor's property.

A number of credit unions had a total of €114,000 in judgments registered against 16 members last week. The average debt value was €7,000, according to Niamh McArdle, of 'Stubbs Gazette/BusinessPro'.

Credit unions are understood to be under huge pressure to recover debts because a surge in arrears and bad debts are raising major questions over the viability of some credit unions.

Judgments were secured by credit unions in Maynooth, Co Kildare; St Agnes in Dublin; Coolock, Artane, Dublin; E-Services (Eircom), Ayrfield in Dublin; Larkhill in Dublin; Dundrum in Dublin; Citybus Employees (Dublin Bus); and Mounthrath in Laois.

The judgments ranged in value from just over €2,000 to €17,000.

But it was not just credit unions taking debt cases.


The largest judgment, for €577,126.36, was awarded in favour of Bank of Scotland, against Seamus MacSamhradain of 46 Grange Park, Rathfarnham, Dublin 14.

Also, the BHT Group, formerly Wolseley Ireland, which operates as Brooks, Heat Merchants and Tubs and Tiles had €100,000 of bad debt registered in the courts against five of its customers.

County councils also featured strongly, including Fingal County Council, which notched up five registered judgments totalling almost €58,000.

The other major player in the judgments sector is the Collector General, who uses the courts to chase unpaid tax bills.

Last week, the taxman got registered judgments in 53 separate cases for bills totalling almost €1.5m.