UK households, locked down in April, cut debts by most on record

A woman wearing PPE walks past an Evans clothing store, closed-down due to coronavirus, on Oxford Street in central London April 27, 2020. — AFP pic
A woman wearing PPE walks past an Evans clothing store, closed-down due to coronavirus, on Oxford Street in central London April 27, 2020. — AFP pic

LONDON, June 2 — British consumers cut their debts by the most on record and mortgage approvals slumped to a new low in April as the country spent the month in coronavirus lockdowns.

Bank of England data published today showed a net repayment of consumer credit of £7.4 billion pounds (RM39.7 billion) as people stuck at home slashed new borrowing to just half February’s level, before the crisis escalated.

Loan repayments by consumers also fell — as banks allowed many households to pause payments — but the drop in repayments was less than the decline in new borrowing. Household bank deposits surged by three times the recent average.

“Stronger household balance sheets should mean that consumers are in a good position to start spending again once the lockdowns are lifted said Thomas Pugh, an economist with Capital Economics. “But we think that households savings will remain elevated for a while yet.”

Consumer lending fell by 0.4 per cent in the 12 months to April, the biggest drop since August 2012. Mortgage approvals fell to their lowest since records began in 1997 — 15,848, 80 per cent below their level in February.

“This is consistent with the market almost completely disappearing during April,” JP Morgan economist Allan Monks said. “However, the easing of restrictions last month and our tracking of high-frequency indicators points to a partial recovery in house purchase activity from May and into June.”

Mortgage lender Nationwide said Britain’s house prices fell by the most in more than 11 years in May.

The BoE data showed net lending to businesses fell to £13.238 billion in April, down by almost £20 billion from March, when companies rushed to get loans to see them through the pandemic crisis, but still above average.

Britain’s government has promised £330 billion worth of state guarantees for bank loans to businesses as part of its attempts to stave off a wave of bankruptcies.

Data published by the finance ministry today showed small businesses had borrowed more than £21 billion under a 100 per cent government-guaranteed coronavirus programme for small companies, well ahead of other lending support schemes.

The Treasury also said its wage subsidy scheme to soften a surge in unemployment now covered more than 8.7 million jobs and claims had passed £17.5 billion.

A similar scheme for self-employed people had seen 2.5 million claims worth £7.2 billion. — Reuters

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