Demand for borrowing remains weak

Sarah Hewin, economist, Standard Chartered: 'Consumers are still relatively cautious'

The appetite for borrowing among consumers remained weak in September, according to figures from the Bank of England.

The number of mortgages approved for house purchases was almost unchanged from the previous month at 47,474, as the housing market stayed at a plateau.

Net mortgage lending was down on the previous month but higher than July.

Borrowing through personal loans and credit cards rose slightly in September but consumers remained cautious.

Known as consumer credit, this figure was up £262m in September. In recent months consumers have adopted a safety-first approach to this unsecured borrowing owing to uncertainty about the economy, jobs and personal finances.

Housing bubble

The figures show a dramatic difference between recent months and the height of the property market boom in the autumn of 2007.

In September that year, net mortgage lending increased by £10bn, the second highest monthly figure on record. Three years on, net mortgage lending was about 1% of that, at £112m.

Mortgage approvals also ran at a much higher rate, as first-time buyers found it easier to gain access to home loans.

Deposits demanded by lenders are now much higher than three years ago. Earlier this week, the Home Builders Federation said a typical first-time buyer needed to save a deposit of just over £37,000 to buy an average-priced starter home of £155,000.

The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (Rics) described the housing market as "subdued" at present.

"Two key factors are depressing activity levels. Firstly, demand is weakening," a Rics spokesman said.

Start Quote

The economic outlook remains challenging for households”

End Quote Adrian Coles BSA director general

"Secondly, there remains a major scarcity of mortgage finance."

Nida Ali, economic advisor to the Ernst & Young Item Club, said: "The figures complement our view that the UK housing market is indeed in the midst of a double-dip.

"Recent trends suggest that the state of the wider economy - particularly the labour market - is likely to remain unsupportive in the months ahead. Thus house prices will continue falling during the rest of the year and into 2011."

Building societies

Low interest rates have also led to savers seeing little return on their money.

The amount of money saved with the UK's mutuals - all building societies and the Co-op bank - fell again last month as people continued to spend rather than save their money, the Building Societies Association (BSA) said.

Withdrawals outstripped new deposits by £819m in September.

This was the 18th month since the start of 2009 in which outflows of cash from mutuals' savings accounts have been larger than new inflows.

"The economic outlook remains challenging for households," said Adrian Coles, director-general of the BSA.

"The labour market remains weak, causing earnings to grow at a rate below current price inflation. It is therefore particularly hard in the current low interest rate environment to attract households to save."

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