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UK housing boom cools amid 'mortgage prison' fears


The record level of growth seen in the U.K. housing market slowed in March after new data showed an 8 percent rise in property prices year on year, down from the 9.2 percent recorded in February.

While gains have slowed, 8 percent is still far above the price increases seen a year earlier which came in at 2.7 percent and is higher than the 6.8 percent gains seen in January this year, figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show.

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Construction workers stand on apartment balconies at the Lexicon residential building site in London, UK
Chris Ratcliffe I Bloomberg via Getty Images

In March this year, first-time buyers paid 10 percent more than they would have in March 2013, and existing owners saw the value of their house rise by 7.2 percent, the ONS said.

Annual house price gains were driven by the capital, with London property prices up 17 percent year-on-year, down from 17.8 percent gains the previous month.

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At the same time, a think tank has warned that one in ten mortgage borrowers are at risk of being "imprisoned" by unaffordable debts as interest rates rise over the next four years.

By 2018, some 770,000 households could be forking out at least a third of their disposable income on mortgage repayments, becoming "mortgage prisoners" as they are unable to switch to better deals, the Resolution Foundation warned.

The group warned that those with very low equity in their home will have little option but to accept their lender's standard variable rate, meaning they are fully exposed to moves in the Bank of England's base rate.

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"Around 2.3 million households might face affordability problems by 2018, with around 770,000 being further disadvantaged by potential prisoner status," said report author, Matthew Whittaker.

The governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney said last weekend a shortage of homes posed the biggest risk to Britain's economic recovery.

Carney said the bank was checking that banks have enough reserves to withstand bad loans, should the housing market suffer a downturn and that mortgages were being issued only to those that could afford them.

Meanwhile Prime Minister David Cameron said on Tuesday he would consider making changes to the 'Help to Buy' mortgage guarantee scheme if advised to do so by the Bank of England.

Speaking to the BBC, Cameron said it is "absolutely right that we are alert to any dangers and problems," adding he would "consider any changes" proposed by the Governor.

The "Help to Buy" scheme allows borrowers to buy property worth up to £600,000 ($1.01 million) with a deposit of 5 percent.