Mortgage debt cut by £8.2bn

 

Britons reduced their mortgage debt by £8.6 billion during the third quarter of this year, but the Bank of England said there was "little sign" that households are trying to pay their debts down more quickly than in the past.

The Bank said a lack of activity in the housing market and a reduction in re-mortgaging were underlying the figures.

The housing market is widely forecast to remain sluggish next year and the Council of Mortgage Lenders recently predicted that transactions could reach their lowest level since its records began in 1978.

Low savings rates as the Bank maintains its base rate at a historic 0.5% low have increased the attraction for home-owners of using any spare cash to reduce their mortgages and improve their balance sheets.

But the Bank said the trend towards injections of housing equity since the start of the financial crisis has not been linked to an increase in mortgage repayments.

It said: "The fall in housing equity withdrawal since the financial crisis is likely to reflect a fall in the number of housing transactions, with little sign that households in aggregate are making an active effort to pay down debt more quickly than in the past."

The latest figure was down from a record £9.6 billion injection of housing equity recorded in the second quarter of this year.

Analysts said the total injection of equity into houses has reached more than £100 billion since the summer of 2008.

Housing equity withdrawal has remained negative in every quarter since spring 2008, reflecting the continued mood of caution.

House prices across the UK are around 10% below their peak levels, according to a separate report released today by Nationwide, with volatile regional variations reflecting why many people have been put off the idea of taking out a new mortgage.

Analysts said that tight credit conditions have also made borrowing difficult, with aspiring home owners often needing a 20% deposit to get on the property ladder.

The consequences of this have been seen in the rental market, which has enjoyed a boom this year.

The Government has unveiled a package of measures aimed at injecting life back into the housing market, but lenders and estate agents have warned that the end of the stamp duty holiday for first-time buyers next spring could disrupt the market further.

The trend towards injecting money rather than borrowing is also adding further pressure on consumers' ability to spend, meaning bad news for retailers.

Howard Archer, chief UK and European economist for IHS Global Insight, said: "In past years, housing equity withdrawal has been used significantly to support consumer spending.

"So regardless of the causes of the switch to a net injection of housing equity since early 2008, the fact that housing equity withdrawal is no longer happening is a further constraint to consumer spending on top of high inflation, muted wage growth, the fiscal squeeze, high and rising unemployment and elevated debt levels.

"However, it should be noted that housing equity withdrawal has also been used for other purposes than supporting consumer spending in the past, such as reducing other debts, investing in other financial assets and topping up pensions.

"For example, a significant proportion of past housing equity withdrawal was due to older people whose children had left home trading down and using the proceeds to supplement their pensions."

PA

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