UK banks are resilient enough to offer struggling households support: Bank of England

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The Bank of England warned Wednesday that UK households are facing mounting financial difficulties from the sharp increase in interest rates but expressed hope that the country’s biggest banks are resilient enough to offer more help than they could before the global financial crisis 15 years ago.

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In its half-yearly financial assessment, the central bank said British households are facing higher debt burdens because of rising interest rates, particularly people whose fixed-rate mortgage deals have come to an end or soon will.

However, the Bank of England said several factors should limit the number of people who default on their mortgages.

It noted, for example, that UK banks have more capital and are carrying far less debt than they did 15 years ago, allowing them to offer struggling households more financial options. That includes permitting borrowers to vary the terms of their loans.

The average household also is carrying less debt than then during the financial crisis, the central bank added.

It lifted its main interest rate to a 15-year high of 5 percent last month and warned of further increases if inflation fails to show signs of falling back toward its target of 2 percent.

That’s had a knock-on effect across lending markets, particularly the mortgage market.

“There will be consequences from increased interest rates I’m afraid because that, from a monetary policy perspective, is why we have to do it,” Bank of England Gov. Andrew Bailey told reporters.

With up to 2.5 million fixed-rate mortgages due to expire by the end of 2024, households will be looking to lock in new deals, which as things stand, could be at least a third more expensive.

Bailey said around 1 million households face a 500-pound ($645) rise in monthly mortgage payments by the end of 2026.

The Bank of England also found that the country's major banks, such as Barclays, HSBC and NatWest Group, passed a series of stress tests, which assess how they perform in a scenario of persistently high inflation, rising global interest rates, deep recessions and higher unemployment.

The bank did note that the sharp rise in interest rates in many countries and greater market volatility over the past 18 months has “created stress in the financial system through a number of channels,” including the failure of three midsized US banks and the emergency rescue of Credit Suisse by its Swiss rival, UBS.

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