An increasing number of Greeks are looking for ways to reduce their monthly payments on bank loans. Sources say the government is considering the introduction of a bill that would put a "ceiling" on payments of up to 30 per cent of monthly income. This was one of the main election promises of the present Prime Minister Antonis Samaras. The main opposition party - the radical left SYRIZA, is going to submit such a proposal for a law too.
From the beginning of the year until now, banks have been forced to change the pace of repayment of 800,000 loans. By the end of 2011, the same procedure was introduced for loans totalling 30 billion euro. The number of housing loans that have not been paid has been continuously increasing and they amount to 14 billion euro at present. At the same time, one of every two rescheduled loans is not regularly paid after some time.
According to the chairman of the union of consumers and borrowers Theodoros Thanopoulos, the number of people seeking help has increased by 200 per cent in the last three years.
"The majority of people are completely beyond their household budget of several years ago and are unable to make the payments of loans that have been calculated on the basis of their former income. Banks want their money back and do not hesitate to use private companies whose employees openly and completely illegally threaten the consumers with a variety of bad consequences. They ring the bells not caring whether the time is right, blackmail elders and young children. These are completely unacceptable practices, which must stop."
The union assists the persons concerned to make fair agreements with banks so that the payments are not excessively high and the financial institutions recover their capital or at least part of it. So far, the employees have received and processed over 3,500 applications and 600 cases have already been settled in court.
"Judges first examine the income and needs of the family. Then they determine the payments based on the remaining amount. If you have nothing left you do not have to pay."
The period within which a claim reaches the courtroom can be up to 2 years. But during this period the borrowers are protected from the adverse consequences of the law although they are not making the payments.
"We help at different levels. I am a mechanical engineer by occupation but I am familiar with the loan legislation from 1996 onwards. I know who the appropriate person in each bank is and help people by negotiating a new rescheduling with lower payments."
He defined as positive the law for highly indebted households, which was passed two years ago and helped many borrowers to reduce their monthly payments or suspend them due to lack of income. According to Theodoros Thanopoulos, both the law and SYRIZA’s proposal for new legislation in this direction have serious flaws. "I learned that one of the requirements offered is for the income declared in the last few years to put interested citizens below the poverty line. This is silly, because the conditions were quite different a few years ago. If the specific requirement remains in force, a large number of people would still not be able to take advantage of the law."
As he pointed out, another serious flaw is that both the previous and the new law proposed by SYRIZA do not provide a rescheduling procedure for the obligations of traders. "Their only choice is for it not to be possible to go bankrupt. What is the use of such a measure for the economy?"
The fact that nearly 150 branches have been opened throughout the country since the establishment of the union to date and their members number over 750,000 is indicative of the gravity of the situation. The borrowers using their services pay a single fee of 50 euro and the introduction of an annual subscription of 10 euro is currently being considered.
Theodoros Thanopoulos stated that the introduction of monthly payments corresponding to the reduced income of Greeks would benefit all those involved in the chain, "as long as the politicians who are primarily to blame for the inadequate laws realize that this is the only real solution."