UK housing rents
Mortgage repayments will rise when the Bank of England decides to hike its base interest rate - but by how much? Reuters

A hike in interest rates by the Bank of England may be worse in theory than in reality, according to the Council of Mortgage Lenders.

Mark Carney, governor of the Bank of England, sent a ripple through the economy by suggesting that interest rates may be lifted earlier than markets expect. Analysts have been predicting a rise in mid-2015.

And a survey by the Homeowners Alliance found that 34% of residential mortgage holders are scared that an increase in the Bank of England's base rate will mean they can no longer afford their loan repayments.

This concern is compounded by rising property prices. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said the average price of a UK home soared by 8% across the year to £252,000 in March 2014.

Higher house prices mean bigger mortgage debt, putting extra strain on household finances to make repayments each month and increasing the risk of defaults when rates rise.

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"For many, is fear of the thing as bad as the thing itself?" said the CML, a body which represents mortgage lenders.

Bank of England policymakers have been at pains to point out that when they lift the base rate, which has been at its record-low 0.5% since 2009, it will be done so gradually and by small increments.

The CML said an increase to 0.75% would mean those with a £100,000 mortgage would see the typical monthly repayment lift from £482 to just £496.

Chancellor George Osborne has given extra powers to the Bank of England's financial policy committee (FPC) that will enable it to impose loan-to-income caps on the mortgage market.

For example, the FPC could say banks must not lend out more than four times an applicant's income. If the applicant earns £25,000 a year, that means they can only get a £100,000 mortgage.

"New Bank of England mortgage limit powers [are] significant, but there's a difference between having a power and deciding whether/when to use it," said the CML in a tweet, suggesting action to curb the market may not be imminent.