Mortgage affordability test scrapped by Bank of England

·3 min read
Two women look at houses in an estate agent's window
Two women look at houses in an estate agent's window

Mortgage borrowing rules have been eased after the Bank of England scrapped an affordability test.

The "stress test" forced lenders to calculate whether potential borrowers would be able to cope if interest rates climbed by up to 3%.

Removing the test may help some potential borrowers get loans, such as the self-employed or freelance workers.

But other rules such as strict loan-to-income limits will not make it easier for most people to get a mortgage.

The withdrawal of the affordability test was announced in June but has come into effect on Monday.

"Scrapping the affordability test is not as reckless as it may sound," said Mark Harris, chief executive of mortgage broker SPF Private Clients.

"The loan-to-income framework remains so there will still be some restrictions in place; it is not turning into a free-for-all on the lending front.

"Lenders will also still use some form of testing but to their own choosing according to their risk appetite."

In other words there will not be an immediate impact for borrowers as lenders will not need to change the way they assess loans.

However, some may well change their own rules in the future.

Mark Yallop, chairman of the Financial Markets Standards Board, said although the change would make it "slightly easier" for some borrowers to get a mortgage, he did not think with would have a significant impact.

"The biggest constraint on new mortgages is the ability of borrowers to afford a deposit," he added.

What was the scrapped test?

The mortgage affordability test was introduced in 2014 as part of a widescale tightening up of the mortgage market to ensure there were no repeats of the mis-selling scandal that partially contributed to the 2008 financial crisis.

The rule was put in place to ensure that borrowers did not become a threat to the financial stability of lenders by taking on debt they subsequently might not be able to repay.

Lenders had to not only work out if borrowers could afford a mortgage at the rate they were being offered, but also work out how they would be affected if interest rates soared by 3%.

Key in door
Key in door

Borrowers who could not prove they could cope with such an eventuality might have been turned down for a loan on that basis, even if they could easily afford a mortgage at the existing rate.

For that reason the test was seen by some as a barrier for some borrowers.

"The rule change could have a positive effect on borrowers who have been disadvantaged when it comes to getting on the property ladder," said Mr Harris.

For example, some potential first-time buyers who have been comfortably affording rents far higher than potential mortgage payments have failed affordability assessments.

What checks remain for borrowers?

There are some key protections in place to help ensure that borrowers don't take on loans they may not be able to afford.

The main one is a loan-to-income "flow limit" which limits the number of mortgages that lenders can grant to borrowers at ratios at or greater than 4.5 the borrowers' salary.

In short, it is very rare that a lender will consider a higher loan-to-income ratio because of the restriction.

After a review of the rules in 2021 the Bank of England's Financial Policy Committee judged that "the LTI flow limit is likely to play a stronger role than the affordability test in guarding against an increase in aggregate household indebtedness and the number of highly indebted households in a scenario of rapidly rising house prices".

"The change in the affordability rules may not be as significant as it sounds as the loan-to-income 'flow limit' will not be withdrawn, which has much greater impact on people's ability to borrow," said Gemma Harle, managing director at Quilter Financial Planning.

The FCA's Mortgage Conduct of Business responsible lending rules also require a wide assessment of affordability.