Court-ordered evictions in Norway have doubled since the finance crisis hit in 2008, and never before have authorities handled so many forced sales of property. There’s also been an alarming rise in the number of elderly Norwegians who can’t pay their bills.
Even though Norway’s economy remains strong in relation to other countries, new statistics suggest that many Norwegians have been living beyond their means. Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) reported recently that the public agency responsible for enforcing court orders (Namsfogden) has carried out more than 4,200 evictions in Oslo alone this year, 92 per cent of them because of unpaid rent. The number of persons faced with court-ordered deductions from their paychecks, to cover unpaid debt, has doubled during the past six years.
Some of the evictions have been dramatic, with authorities threatened with physical violence while in one case, the debtor jumped off his apartment’s balcony when Namsfogden knocked on his door. He died in the fall.
In other cases, the debtors are resigned and mentally exhausted after trying hard to hang on to their homes. Many of them are elderly Norwegians, who have maintained lifestyles higher than their pensions can afford and who have lived off consumer loans based on the equity in their homes. They ultimately face losing their homes.
“The home is perhaps the most important part of a family’s life,” Baard Bratsberg, chairman of collection agency Kredinor told DN. “It’s worrisome that so many are struggling to keep their homes, especially the couples who have children.”
The rise in elderly Norwegians with payment problems is also worrisome, Bratsberg said: “The reason for it is that their homes may not be generating the gains they’d hoped for when sold. This is the age group that’s taken on the most consumer debt. Many still sit with debt after the the house has been sold, and their pension income isn’t as high as they’d expected. It can’t cover the debt payments.”
Bratsberg said that Norwegians collectively have around NOK 65 billion in consumer debt, and high interest rates mean they can “very quickly” land in arrears. Christian Poppe of the state institute for consumer research (Statens institutt for forbruksforskning) agreed, telling newspaper Aftenposten that there’s been a major shift in spending patterns among Norwegian seniors who are healthy and want to maintain active lifestyles. They don’t feel as obliged to leave large estates to the next generation, and spend their money and tap into their equity themselves, said Poppe.
“Their consumption and lifestyles (which include frequent travel and entertainment) are often financed with loans and their home equity,” Poppe told Aftenposten. “Those over age 50 are therefore more at risk (for payment problems) than earlier.”
The number of Norwegians aged 66 and older with bad credit ratings has risen 23.1 percent in the past three years, said Poppe. The number of those over age 66 who have been subject to collection agency action has doubled since 2004.
Stig Inge Eikemo of collection firm Lindorff called the trend “frightening and alarming” because it’s difficult for elderly to emerge from debt problems. “They don’t have good prospects for higher income,” Eikemo noted. “Many simply haven’t realized that their income won’t be as high as when they were working.”