Banks and building societies reined in their lending to consumers during the first three months of 2018 at the fastest rate since the the credit crunch, according to fresh figures from the Bank of England.
The availability of unsecured loans to consumers between January and March slumped by the largest amount since records began in 2007, accelerating a trend seen through most of last year.
Analysts said lenders had become more cautious in response to growing concern among regulators about rising levels of personal debt, in particular on credit cards, with lower demand also a factor.
The survey by the Bank showed that consumer lending tightened by an aggregate of 38.7%, the largest fall on record and the fifth consecutive quarterly decline.
Howard Archer, chief economic adviser at the forecasting group EY Item Club, said the Bank of England had warned that “banks risk becoming complacent in their lending behaviour so it should take some comfort from banks reportedly tightening their lending standards for granting unsecured consumer credit”.
The steep fall was partly due to a drop-off in approvals by lenders, with successful credit card applications down 26.2% and other forms of unsecured lending falling 13.2%.
Banks’ waning appetite for risk was combined with declining demand for loans, with credit cards again proving the major driver with a fall of 21.3%.
Analysts at HSBC said: “Today’s survey shows that credit conditions are tightening in the UK, at least for the consumer.
“Lenders are getting more cautious, perhaps as a consequence of the weaker consumer environment and slower economy, but perhaps also in response to the Financial Conduct Authority’s [FCA] concerns about credit card debt.”
Earlier this year, the FCA responded to fears about rising debt with new rules designed to help people with consistently high levels of credit card debt.
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A decline in the demand for mortgages indicated continued weakness in the housing market, with home loan applications falling 29.3% in the first quarter.
Analysts at Capital Economics said that mortgage lenders were also becoming more cautious, pointing to a balance of 19% of lenders reporting a fall in approved loan applications.
“That was the highest reading seen in over five years, and suggests that tightening credit criteria may have had a meaningful effect on mortgage lending volumes,” they said.
But respondents to the survey said they expected a rebound in levels of mortgage lending in the coming quarter.
The availability of credit to businesses was reported to be unchanged in the first quarter, with no change expected in the next three months.