Debt charities issue warning to government after unsecured consumer credit grew at fastest rate in more than 11 years
Credit card debts hit a record high in the run-up to Christmas. Photograph: Andrew Matthews/PA
A credit boom that is close to levels not seen since the 2008 financial crash should set alarm bells ringing in Theresa May’s government, debt charities have warned.
The latest figures from the Bank of England show unsecured consumer credit, which includes credit cards, car loans and second mortgages, grew by 10.8% in the year to November to £192.2bn, picking up pace on the previous month to grow at its fastest rate in more than 11 years.
In September 2008, the month that Lehman Brothers collapsed and the banking crash triggered a worldwide recession, the level of UK consumer credit debt hit a peak of £208bn.
Credit card debts, which accounted for £66.7bn of the total, hit a record high last month as Britons used the plastic to fund shopping as never before in the run-up to Christmas.
The debt charity StepChange said the rise in debt levels would leave thousands of families vulnerable to higher levels of inflation and changes in income from wage cuts, divorce or redundancy.
Its head of policy, Peter Tutton, said: “Levels of outstanding borrowing are approaching the 2008 peak, and the growth rate of net lending is at its highest since 2005. Alarm bells should be ringing.
“Previous experience shows how such increases in the levels of borrowing can leave households over-indebted and vulnerable to sudden changes in circumstances and drops in income that can pitch them into hardship.
“Lenders, regulators and the government need to ensure that the mistakes made in the lead-up to the financial crisis are not repeated and that there are better policies in place to protect those who fall into financial difficulty.”
Research conducted for National Debtline by YouGov found that one in three British adults bought Christmas food or presents on credit this year.
Joanna Elson, chief executive of the Money Advice Trust, the charity that runs National Debtline, said there had been a spike in calls to its helpline.
“Consumer credit continues to soar, and this is something we should all be concerned about amidst the current uncertainty over the UK economy,” she said.
“Most people are currently able to handle this extra borrowing, but if the economy does indeed suffer in the years ahead, these extra debts could become even more difficult to repay.”
Economists polled by Reuters expect economic growth to more than halve this year to a rate of 1.1%, as inflation rises to close to 3% from zero at the beginning of 2016 due to the effect of sterling’s sharp fall since June’s Brexit vote.
Recent surveys of consumer confidence have shown a sharp dip after a recovery from the panic that dented sentiment after the Brexit vote.
The charity’s warning follows more than a year of intense competition among credit card companies for new customers, who are commonly offered 0% interest rates for several years.
Households have £66.7bn of credit card debt outstanding, up £600m on the previous month, while the total level of outstanding consumer credit reached £192.2bn, up £1.9bn on October.
Last month the Bank said some households were highly indebted and might struggle as unemployment rose, and separate data showed British households saved the lowest portion of their incomes since 2008 during the three months after the EU referendum.
But the Bank’s figures showed homeowners remained upbeat, with the number of mortgages for house purchase approved by lenders rising to an eight-month high of 67,505, from a slightly downwardly revised 67,371 in October.
The Bank forecast in November that mortgage approvals would slow to a monthly average of 65,000 over the next six months, and major lenders expect weaker house price growth.
Net mortgage lending, which lags behind approvals, rose £3.157bn in November, the Bank said, less than a forecast of £3.5bn in a poll of City economists.https://www.theguardian.com/