Consumer optimism accelerates
Consumer optimism over the economy continued to run at a three-year high in September amid a blossoming housing market and a further easing of concerns about employment.
The Lloyds Bank Spending Power Report said that a new peak of consumer sentiment which had been recorded in August grew stronger in September, to reach the highest levels since records began in November 2010.
For the first time since the survey began, more people think they will have more money to spend in the coming months after paying household bills rather than less, with a net balance of 1% more people saying this.
The pace of consumer confidence is continuing to accelerate, although energy bill prices remain a concern for more than three-quarters (77%) of consumers, the research found.
The research was carried out just before Centrica-owned energy giant British Gas announced it was hiking electricity bills by 10.4% and gas tariffs by 8.4% - affecting 7.8 million households, and SSE announced it was hitting seven million customers with an 8.2% rise.
Sentiment about employment was at its least negative since the survey began. Some 78% of consumers were downbeat about the employment market, edging down from 81% in August.
But those approaching retirement were the most pessimistic, with 87% of 56 to 64-year-olds not feeling good about the employment market.
Meanwhile, optimism about the housing market reached a new peak last month, Lloyds said, with just over two-fifths (41%) of people feeling positive about the market. Consumers living in Northern Ireland continued to be the most negative about the housing market, with nearly three-quarters (72%) stating it is "not good" or "not good at all", against a UK average of 59%.
House prices in Northern Ireland have only just started to stabilise in recent months after seeing some sharp drops following the financial downturn.
Strong signs of a housing market revival have been seen in recent months, with the Council of Mortgage Lenders (CML) recently reporting that activity is at its strongest in five years.
Lenders have been offering some of their lowest mortgage rates, resulting in cheap monthly repayments for new borrowers.
A new phase of the Government's flagship Help to Buy scheme, offering state-backed mortgages to people with deposits as low as 5% was also launched this month. Help to Buy is the latest in a string of schemes aimed at kick-starting the market, such as Funding for Lending, which gives lenders access to cheap finance in order to help borrowers.
Patrick Foley, chief economist at Lloyds Bank, said: "Consumer sentiment continues to firm. Continued positive developments in the economic backdrop, and relative stability in essential spending growth, suggests consumers should in time become more willing to spend.
"This would, in turn, permit the economic recovery to gain further traction."
More than 2,000 consumers took part in the survey across the UK.