Page last updated at 10:48 GMT, Monday, 1 February 2010

Demand for credit back on the rise

UK currency
Many consumers have been trying to pay down debts during the downturn

New borrowing on credit cards, loans and overdrafts has outstripped the amount being paid back by UK consumers for the first time since June.

Unsecured consumer credit rose £52m in December, driven by credit card borrowing, the Bank of England said.

The number of mortgages approved for house purchases dipped slightly compared with November, to 59,023.

This was still higher than the average of the past six months, when the housing and mortgage markets picked up.

Spending on plastic

The trend during the downturn has been for consumers to pay off debts, often instead of saving when interest rates are so low.

Savers continue to face difficult conditions while the Bank Rate remains at such a very low level, especially with inflation returning in the near term
Brian Morris, BSA

For five consecutive months, repayments outstripped new unsecured consumer credit. However, in December, the trend reversed, the Bank of England's figures show.

This was primarily the result of borrowing on credit cards, which rose by £195m. Demand for personal loans and overdrafts remained low, with repayments outstripping new borrowing by £143m.

"The small increase in consumer credit is likely to be connected to consumers bringing forward purchases to avoid the VAT increase and a relapse is likely next month," said Andrew Goodwin, of Ernst and Young.

"The household sector is continuing to deleverage and we expect consumers to provide little support to the recovery as it develops this year."

Total net lending to individuals rose by £1.2bn in December, double the average of the previous six months. The vast majority of lending is in the form of mortgages.

There were 1,022 fewer mortgages approved for house purchases in December compared with November, although this marked a typical seasonal drop.

However, it was the first drop in approvals since November 2008 and many commentators argue that the housing market will remain relatively static in 2010.

Net mortgage lending slowed from a £1.6bn increase to £1.2bn in the same period, but the December level was still up on the average of the previous six months.

The number of people remortgaging rose slightly - to 27,276. This was still a traditionally low level as people chose to benefit from low interest rates by staying on their mortgage provider's variable rate when their fixed-rate deal came to an end.

The Bank rate is widely expected to remain at record lows for some months.

Building societies

Low rates have put increased pressure on building societies, which said their traditional business model of attracting savers to fund mortgage lending had been hit.

There was a further withdrawal of £400m by customers in December, the Building Societies Association (BSA) said, as people searched for better returns elsewhere, spent their savings on Christmas gifts or paid back debts.

Total balances at UK building societies reduced by £1bn in 2009, compared with an increase of £19bn in 2008.

"Savers continue to face difficult conditions while the Bank Rate remains at such a very low level, especially with inflation returning in the near term," said Brian Morris, the BSA's head of savings policy

"December is traditionally a slow month for savings as consumers make additional purchases for the Christmas period, and the return of VAT to 17.5% at the end of the year provided a further incentive to spend."

Net lending by building societies in December 2009 fell by £283m, as against a rise of £273m in December 2008.

Gross mortgage lending rose slightly in December compared with November, to counter the usual seasonal trend. The BSA said this was the result of a rush ahead of the end of the stamp duty holiday.

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