Real Estate

UK Help to Buy backs $1.7B of mortgage loans

The U.K. government helped 7,313 buyers to purchase a home with its flagship Help to Buy mortgage scheme in the first six months of its existence, figures released on Thursday show.

Introduced in October, Help to Buy provides mortgage guarantees with the aim of helping first-time buyers get on the housing ladders. Under the scheme, the government made £153 million of mortgage guarantees which backed £1 billon ($1.67 billion) worth of loans. Four fifths of purchasers were first-time buyers.

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The figures will silence critics of the scheme who feared it would stoke a housing bubble across the country. Help to Buy accounted for just 1.3 percent of all mortgage-backed property purchases in the six-month period, a low proportion of mortgages which has dampened the concern.

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"Today's figures reinforce the fact that Help to Buy has not helped to blow up the market as numerous commentators have suggested," property expert Andrew Teacher said in an emailed comment.

"The figures show the scheme has been most effective in areas of reduced growth where prices have remained relatively flat."

But U.K. house prices have been rising rapidly, particularly in London and the south east of the country. House prices rose 8 percent in the year to March 2014, but saw a 17 percent surge in London, bringing the average house price in the capital to £459,000 compared to the nationwide average of £252,000.

Despite this, use of the Help to Buy scheme was concentrated in the east and north west with less take up in London and the south east, adding to the idea that the program was not a big factor behind the price rises in the capital.

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Help to Buy has focused on the low-end of the housing market, with the average price of property purchased through the scheme at £151,597, compared to the national average of £252,000.

Christopher Furlong | Getty Images

Interest rate hike?

Added to the fear of a housing bubble and whether the Help to Buy scheme is sustainable, is the looming specter of rising interest rates. Martin Weale, an external member of the Bank of England's Monetary Policy Committee said the U.K. needs to start raising interest rates "sooner" if it wants to realize a gradual increase in the headline figure.

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Some analysts have suggested a rise in rates could make mortgage repayments unsustainable and hit the housing market. But Grainne Gilmore, head of U.K. residential research at Knight Frank said there would be no shock to the market.

"I think the interest rate rise could have an impact on the market but only if they rise unexpectedly or faster than expected," Gilmore told CNBC in a phone interview.

"What we expect is slow and steady increase. The hope is that he market will be able to absorb the increases."

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