Business & Finance Finance

First time buyers - will they ever get on to the housing ladder?

The plight of UK first time buyers is one of the most depressing things about the UK housing market. The Chancellor, Gordon Brown keeps saying he is committed to addressing the problem but where are the solutions?

The Chancellor came forward with a few half hearted measures but Stamp Duty, which is one of the factors stopping new young buyers getting on the housing ladder, remained at 125,000.

According to figures from the CML (Council of Mortgage Lenders), there were around 369,000 first-time buyers in 2005, the highest number since 2002, borrowing more than 40 billion pounds and accounting for in excess of 37 per cent of all borrowers, both at their the highest levels since 2002.

The average age of borrowers was 29, which has been rising steadily since the CML started tracking the data in 1974 when the average age was 26. Last year the average income multiple was 3.07, the highest it has ever been, with interest payments accounting for 16.3 per cent of average income, the highest it has been since 1992.

There is no question in my mind that the Government are accountable but let's be clear about this, so is the UK mortgage industry and lenders have a responsibility to their borrowers and the UK housing market in general.
A study between the CML and YouGov, found that 88 per cent of respondents believe it is now either "very difficult" or "more difficult than ever before" for young people to buy their first home.

The study went on to find that 78 per cent of people felt something should be done to make it easier for young people to buy, with 79 per cent saying it was the job of the government to help, 66 per cent saying it was down to local authorities, and 61 per cent believing it was down to mortgage lenders.

House prices have risen faster than the earnings of the vast majority of the UK general public and it is not uncommon for a first time buyer to have to work on income multiples of 7x income! This, as I am sure you would agree, is simply not acceptable and all we are doing is pushing people further into a debt trap as they struggle to maintain even a basic standard of living.

The other major problem as mentioned earlier is stamp duty. Stamp duty was pegged at 125k by Gordon Brown, which is around 70,000 below the average price of a property in the UK. Lenders, brokers, commentators and even former CBI chief Sir Digby Jones weighed into the government saying that the current threshold is too low, with the hardest hit being first-time buyers. Many critics point out that the stamp duty threshold has not kept pace with inflation, particularly as it has only recently been increased to 125k from 60k.

Quite simply, stamp duty is a stealth tax for those people who can least afford it - first time buyers.

I have been in the mortgage industry for over 17 years so I feel that I well qualified to comment. The stamp duty threshold should be increased to 200k as a bare minimum and preferably, 250k. The fact remains that getting on the property ladder as a first time buyer has become this mythical, unattainable dream, hardly the romantic view painted by the Government.

So, Mr Brown, a question to you. For many young people who wish to buy a modest, clean, efficient home (not some Victorian, 6 bedroom manor house with stables), how do you propose that they afford to do this?

Answers on a postcard please.

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