High Court backs compensation for Provident customers
August 11, 2021

First-time buyers receive £27k boost as Bank of England relaxes mortgage rules

The central bank has proposed abandoning rules which force banks to apply strict stress tests to ensure borrowers can keep up with mortgage repayments if interest rates rise..

The rules were introduced in the wake of the financial crisis to protect borrowers from financial difficulty. They require lenders to ensure borrowers can afford to meet their monthly payments today, and if rates were significantly higher in future. Borrowers are tested against their bank's standard variable rate, plus an additional three percentage points.

This means borrowers have been asked to prove they can afford rates of 7pc or higher, even if they are taking out a loan with a 2pc interest rate. Any rule change could take a year to implement, the central bank said.

If affordability rules were scrapped, banks would be able to lend much more. The Bank of England is widely expected to increase the Bank Rate from 0.5pc to 2pc this year in a bid to combat rampant inflation – an increase of 1.5 percentage points.

Lenders will still be expected to lend responsibly in the absence of the Bank of England's affordability checks. Assuming that banks ensured borrowers could still keep up with repayments on a reversion rate plus 1.5 percentage points, average borrowing power would increase to 5.8 times income – equivalent to 16pc more. Customers can currently borrow up to five times their income, Capital Economics, a consultancy, said.

Relaxed affordability tests would especially help the hundreds of thousands of first-time buyers purchasing a home each year. These buyers are typically the most stretched financially.

The average first-time buyer mortgage is £172,000, according to the Office for National Statistics. A 16pc rise in borrowing power would add £27,520 to their budget.

In London, where buyers must borrow an average of £309,000 more to get on the ladder, they would be able to borrow almost £50,000 more.

Andrew Wishart, of Capital Economics, said: "Those most likely to be able to borrow more are high income households with low lifestyle expenditure, where a lender believes a bigger share of income can be allocated to mortgage payments without causing financial difficulties. For instance, a dual income household without children."

Since 2014 banks and building societies have had limits placed on the number of mortgages they can lend to buyers borrowing more than four-and-a-half times their income. This rule will remain in place if the affordability test is scrapped.

The Bank of England believes this rule, alongside affordability requirements set by the City watchdog, the Financial Conduct Authority, is enough to protect borrowers from defaulting on mortgage payments if interest rates soared.

It said limiting the number of mortgages above four-and-a-half times income was "likely to play a stronger role than the affordability test in guarding against an increase in... the number of highly indebted households".

Sarah Coles, of Hargreaves Lansdown, said allowing people to borrow more money looked like a "risky move at a time when house prices are sky high".

"Any weakness in the property market in the coming months could add the risk of negative equity for those who have borrowed much more. But the Bank is convinced the extra affordability test isn’t fair any more and there are still enough protections in place without it," she said.

First-time buyers could soon be able to borrow tens of thousands of pounds more as the Bank of England has announced plans to scrap its mortgage affordability test.