Credit rating agency Moody's warns of growing household debt amid signs of Brexit downturn

As consumer borrowing hits £200bn for the first time since 2008 financial crash, experts warn the poorest will be worst affected if the economy slumps as the UK leaves the EU

Chloe Farand
Monday 31 July 2017 21:04
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Credit rating agency Moody's warned soaring household debt was leaving lower-income families most exposed
Credit rating agency Moody's warned soaring household debt was leaving lower-income families most exposed

A credit rating agency has warned that soaring levels of household debt could leave Britain's lower-income families dangerously exposed amid signs of an economic downturn linked to Brexit.

Moody's said the UK's weak economic climate meant it had to downgrade four of the five consumer finance sectors to negative.

The agency's warning over credit came as the Bank of England revealed that the amount borrowed by UK consumers through credit cards, loans and overdrafts had reached £200bn for the first time since the financial crash of 2008.

Inflation, triggered by the low pound, is now rising faster than wage growth and has put growing pressure on households, squeezing budgets and causing credit card spending to increase and savings to fall.

In this context, the Bank of England has expressed concerns over surging levels of unsecured consumer borrowing on credit cards, which is going up by more than 10 per cent a year and outstripping income.

Moody's analyst Greg Davies said: "Household debt is high and still growing, leaving consumers vulnerable to an economic downturn, while higher inflation, weaker wage growth and levels of indebtedness leaves those in lower-income brackets the most exposed.

"An additional challenge is that households' capacity to draw on savings to maintain consumption and/or service their consumer debts has significantly diminished."

The credit rating agency has also warned in recent weeks of the potential economic damage if the UK fails to secure an exit trade deal with the EU.

Alex Braxier, the executive director of financial stability at the Bank of England, has warned that high street banks are heading towards a "spiral of complacency" over consumer lending.

The Prudential Regulation Authority has told lenders to show there are not taking on too much risk by September.

This is not the first time the Bank of England has raised the alarm over lax lending and increasing borrowing with its governor, Mark Carney, warning ominously that lenders were "forgetting the lessons of the past".

Meanwhile, the Institute for Fiscal Studies also warned that UK households could face "considerable and unpredictable" fluctuations in food prices after Brexit thanks to increased trade barriers and a weak pound.

Additoonal reporting by agencies.

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