Funding for Lending: How does it work?

Pound notes

Funding for Lending (FLS), the Bank of England and Treasury scheme, initially to boost bank lending to households and companies, opened for business at the beginning of August 2012.

The aim of the scheme was to increase bank lending by up to £70bn.

The government changed the rules in January 2014, with this type of funding is no longer used to support mortgage lending.

The scheme aimed to bolster the economy, by halting a downward spiral of lending and borrowing that the UK had experienced since the onset of the credit crunch and international banking crisis.

Banks and building societies are able to access the funds until the end of January 2015.

How does it work?

In essence, the Bank of England is letting commercial banks borrow funds from it cheaply, so that the banks then pass this on in the form of cheap loans to firms.

What is the point?

The point is to encourage the UK's commercial banks to borrow more money, and more cheaply than at present, so they can then in turn lend it to companies who wish to borrow.

Is it working?

The debate is fierce. Some report banks are still unwilling to lend to business. Others say businesses are unwilling to take on new debt and are paying back loans. Either way, repayments are rising faster than borrowing, leaving the latest "net" lending figure (for the first quarter of 2014) down.

So what are the mechanics of FLS?

Banks and other lenders approach the Bank of England, if they want. They swap assets they already have, such as loans, with the Bank. It in turn provides them with pieces of paper known as Treasury bills, for a four-year period.

The commercial banks are then able to use these bits of paper as top quality backing with which to borrow cash in the wholesale financial markets, from other lenders. With the Treasury's backing, the idea is that they will be able to borrow funds at very cheap rates.

How will the taxpayer be protected in this arrangement?

The collateral pledged by commercial banks will have to be worth more than the high-grade paper being offered by the Bank of England. So, for every £1 of Treasury bills they borrow, the assets being pledged will have to be worth, say, £1.10 or £1.20. Thus if the value of that asset subsequently falls, the Bank of England will not suffer from the top slice of any loss.

What about savers?

They have suffered an unforeseen knock-on effect of FLS. The availability of cheap funds from the Bank means that lenders do not need to try so hard to attract funds from the general public, to then lend on to borrowers. That is why it is now almost impossible to find a savings account offering more than 3% interest.

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