British mortgage approvals sink to lowest level since mid-2020

Unsecured borrowing in October rose at the fastest pace since the aftermath of the first lockdown

Lenders sanctioned 67,199 mortgages last month, down from the 71,851 recorded in September. PA
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Britain’s mortgage approvals fell sharply in October as activity in the housing market eased following a rush earlier in the year caused by the stamp duty tax holiday.

Lenders sanctioned 67,199 mortgages last month, down from the 71,851 in September and the lowest level since June 2020, according to Bank of England data, while net borrowing lending dropped from £9.5 billion ($12.7bn) to £1.6bn.

“October’s decrease was driven by borrowing brought forward to September to take advantage of stamp duty land tax relief, before it was completely tapered off,” the Bank of England said.

“The net borrowing in October was £4.6bn below the 12-month average to June 2021, when the full stamp duty holiday was in effect.”

The lower approval figures indicate a cooling-off period for the market after buyers rushed to complete deals before the first stamp duty holiday deadline on June 30, which offered them a saving of up to £15,000 on the first £500,000 of a purchase.

The tax break, rolled out in July last year to bolster the market during the pandemic, was then tapered down to the first £250,000 of a purchase until it ended completely on September 30.

Mark Harris, chief executive of mortgage broker SPF Private Clients, said the drop in net mortgage borrowing was “not surprising” considering the flurry of activity in September before the stamp duty deadline.

“With house purchase numbers falling, although still close to the 12-month average the market is settling down a little after what has been a frenzied few months,” he added.

This year is set to be the UK's busiest housing market since 2007, with one in 16 houses changing hands in 2021, according to property firm Zoopla.

The company’s House Price Index shows strong buyer demand as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, which has boosted the average value of homes in the country to £240,000, from £200,000 five years ago.

Over the past 12 months alone, average UK prices have risen by £15,500, with south-east and south-west England recording increases of more than £22,000.

The annual rate of growth for all homes is 6.9 per cent, up from 3.5 per cent in October 2020, Zoopla said, a slight fall from the 7 per cent increase recorded in August and September 2021.

Meanwhile, UK consumers took on unsecured loans at the fastest pace since the aftermath of the first lockdown, adding to signs that people are becoming more willing to spend.

Consumer credit rose £706 million in October, with borrowing on credit cards accounting for almost all of the increase, tallying with strong retail sales during the month.

The data suggest consumer confidence remained buoyant in October, which may reassure BoE policymakers that the economy is strong enough to cope with an interest-rate increase next month.

Bethany Beckett at Capital Economics said while the rise in consumer credit in October adds to evidence that economic activity fared well at the start of the fourth quarter, “that no longer offers much comfort in light of the discovery of the new Omicron variant.

“While much remains uncertain, the risks to our already subdued [gross domestic product] forecast appear to the downside,” she added.

Updated: November 29, 2021, 11:43 AM