Page last updated at 10:59 GMT, Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Consumers look to pay off debts

Piggy bank
Consumers have been relatively conservative with their money

High Street banks have provided more evidence of consumers concentrating on savings and paying off debts in the downturn.

Figures from the British Bankers' Association (BBA) showed that total consumer credit has contracted by 2.2% over the last year.

But the number of mortgage approvals for house purchases has reached the same level as two years ago.

There were 44,713 mortgages approved, up 2,161 on the previous month.

"Household priorities are showing up in the November figures," said David Dooks, statistics director for the BBA.

"Demand for new personal loans was weak and people are paying off debt or building savings in response to economic circumstances."

Savings trend

The BBA said that demand for personal loans was particularly weak and balances had fallen by £3.6bn over the year to date.

In the housing sector, prices have continued to edge up and approvals for house purchase are now back at a similar level to that of two years ago
David Dooks, BBA

In November, people paid back £300m more in total than they took out in new credit.

This follows figures from the Office for National Statistics on Tuesday which showed that the household savings ratio - the percentage of disposable income that is saved - rose to its highest level since 1998.

In the third quarter of the year, the proportion rose to 8.7% of income, as against 7.6% in the previous three months.

The BBA figures showed that the increase in the amount of personal deposits and savings put in High Street bank accounts slowed in November compared with the previous month, but they were 3.9% up on the same month a year earlier.

So far this year, deposits have increased by more than £18bn, compared with £21bn in the same period of 2008.

Mortgage lift

The appetite for taking out a home loan to buy a property in the UK appears to be growing, although it compares to a moribund housing market a year ago.

The property market has been through a tough couple of years

As well as the increase in mortgage approvals, net mortgage lending - which strips out redemptions and repayments - rose to £3.3bn in November, its highest level since February.

"In the housing sector, prices have continued to edge up and approvals for house purchase are now back at a similar level to that of two years ago," said Mr Dooks.

But he added that homeowners were choosing to revert to their lender's standard variable rate, rather than searching for a new deal.

As a result, there were 22,360 remortgaging deals approved, down 25% on a year ago and 63% lower than two years ago.

The number of approvals for the withdrawal of equity from homes was about half the level of two years ago, the BBA said.

Oliver Gilmartin, senior economist at the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, said that the rise in demand for homes continued to outstrip supply.

"Recent indications are that potential vendors that became 'reluctant landlords' at the start of the downturn may be taking this improved pricing environment to place properties for sale," he said.

"There are growing concerns that current momentum in the market will see house prices move close to pre-crises highs in 2010 stretching affordability further. However, Rics expect the market to take a reality check in the second half of 2010."

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