No spring forward in mortgage approvals

An important measure of activity in the housing market is the number of mortgage approvals. Figures released by the Bank of England show that the number of mortgage approvals for house purchase, after seasonal adjustment, fell from 48,099 in January to 47,094 in February. This was the third consecutive monthly fall in the number of mortgage approvals and the lowest number since the 46,551 recorded back in May 2009.

If we take the latest three months as a whole (December 2009 to February 2010), there were 153,446 approvals worth £20.89 billion. Now, when compared with the same three months a year earlier we can see just how thin activity in the housing market was back then: the number of approvals is now 45.2% higher, while the value of approvals is 30.8% higher. But, it is short-term growth or, more accurately, the lack of it which is worrying commentators. It appears that much of the autumnal recovery in housing market activity is petering out. When we compare the figures for latest three months with those in the previous three months (September to November 2009) we find approval numbers down 10.7%, while the value of approvals is down 11.4%. In other words, it appears that housing demand is again weakening.

If we take a slightly longer-term perspective it becomes even clearer just how low, by historic standards, current activity levels are. Over the past ten years the average number of mortgage approvals for house purchase each month has been 94,443 – this is more than double the number reported for February. So, while the clocks may have gone forward, mortgage approvals are reluctant to move forward. But, more than this, it will be fascinating to watch in the months ahead the patterns in mortgage approvals and so monitor the demand for housing.


Mortgage lending falls to a nine-month low Times Online , Robert Lindsay (29/3/10)
Mortgage slowdown continues, Bank of England data shows BBC News (29/3/10)
Mortgage approvals fall to a nine-month low Financial Times, Daniel Pimlott (29/3/10)
BoE reports fall in February mortgage approvals Home Move, Kay Murchie (29/3/10)


Mortgage approval numbers and other lending data are available from the Bank of England’s statistics publication, Monetary and Financial Statistics (Bankstats) (See Table A5.4.)


  1. Between September 2008 and the end of 2009, the government introduced what became known as a ‘Stamp Duty holiday’. This meant that buyers became liable to pay Stamp Duty (a tax on house purchases) on property purchases worth over £175,000 rather than over £125,000. How would you have expected the ‘Stamp Duty holiday’ to have affected activity levels during this period? And what types of buyers would have most benefited?
  2. The government announced in the March 2010 Budget that it is removing Stamp Duty for first-time buyers on properties up to £250,000 for a 2-year period starting from 25th March 2010. What impact might this have on current activity levels? What about in the run-up to its removal in 2012?
  3. In the March 2010 Budget, the government announced that a 5% rate of Stamp Duty was being introduced on properties of over £1 million from tax year 2011-12. Currently, a top rate of 4% is applied to properties over £500,000. How would you expect this to affect activity levels now, the closer we get to next April and then after April 2011?
  4. What can we infer from the recent patterns in mortgage approvals about the strength of housing demand?
  5. Do patterns in the number of mortgage approvals have implications for house prices? Explain your answer.