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Help to Buy impact on South 'small'
The Government's controversial Help to Buy scheme is having only a limited direct impact on parts of the country where house price rises are at their most heated, official figures suggest.
Some 7,313 households have been helped by the Help to Buy mortgage guarantee scheme in the first six months since its launch with a total value of £1 billion, representing just 1.3% of all mortgage completions in the UK over the same period.
The mortgage guarantee scheme is supporting a higher proportion of mortgages in the North West and the East, at 2.3% and 3.3% of all mortgage lending in those areas respectively than it is in London and the South East, where the respective figures are 0.6% and 0.9%, the report said.
In Scotland, around two and-a-half as times as many mortgages have been handed out under the guarantee scheme as in London, at 957 versus 385.
Experts were divided on whether further action is now needed to restrict lending under Help to Buy. Some said calls to tighten controls on the scheme amid fears about its impact on pushing up house prices are a "red herring".
But others argued that placing further curbs onto the scheme, which offers help to both first-time buyers and home movers with 5% deposits, would send out a strong message to help calm the market.
A further 20,548 mortgages have been completed since another separate scheme which also runs under the Help to Buy banner and offers equity loans to help people buy a new-build home was launched in England last spring. The tally for both schemes puts the total number of households that have now been helped by Help to Buy at more than 27,000.
Some 85% of all Help to Buy sales have gone to first-time buyers and 94% of mortgages offered under the schemes have been completed outside London. Put together, the schemes are estimated to account for less than 3% of overall house sales.
The figures also shed more light on how Help to Buy is being used at a local level. They show there have been just two completions each under the mortgage guarantee scheme in the London boroughs of Westminster and in Kensington and Chelsea, compared with 50 in Bradford, 21 in Blackpool and 34 in Stockton-on-Tees.
The Government insisted the scheme is supporting "responsible lending", with the average house being bought under the mortgage guarantee scheme priced at £151,597 and the typical price under the equity loan scheme at £204,805.
The majority of mortgage completions through the guarantee scheme have been on terraced houses and only 31 properties which have come under the initiative in the six months since its launch have been worth more than half a million pounds.
Almost half (3,320) of all mortgage completions through the mortgage guarantee scheme are on properties worth £125,000 or less, which the report said reflects the fact that most completions have been on lower-value properties away from the South East.
Recent Office for National Statistics (ONS) data has shown that house prices lifted by 8% in the year to March to reach £252,000 on average.
Property values in London have risen at twice this pace over the last 12 months, with a 17% annual lift in the capital pushing average prices there to £459,000.
Martin Beck, senior economic adviser to the EY Item Club, said the new figures show that Help to Buy's role in London, where the market has been at its "most heated", is "trivial".
He said: "So the view that cutting Help to Buy's £600,000 cap on eligible homes would be an effective remedy for the housing market's excesses strikes us even more of a red herring.
"Moreover, curtailing the scheme would do nothing to dampen the factors pumping up the London market - domestic and foreign cash buyers, rapid population growth and planning restrictions.
"But it would risk undermining activity in regions of the UK where house price growth remains modest."
Paul Smee, director general of the Council of Mortgage Lenders (CML), said: "Broadly, we should be reassured by the latest data on Help to Buy...
"Any worry that the scheme risks stoking a housing boom, fortunately, does not seem to be playing out in practice so far."
But Rob Wood, chief UK economist at Berenberg, argued the impression the scheme gives to the housing market matters more than its direct impact.
He said: " Curtailing the scheme - in any way - would send a strong, worthwhile, signal."
Prime Minister David Cameron welcomed the new figures while on a visit to a construction site in Ilkeston in Derbyshire, where Taylor Wimpey is building 280 new homes, saying Help to Buy is " an important part of our long term plan".
Mr Cameron has previously said he would consider making changes to Help to Buy, if the Bank of England thinks these are necessary.
Critics of Help to Buy have blamed the scheme for adding to the upward pressure on house prices by boosting demand for homes without a corresponding increase in supply.
The Government's new figures show that 74% of homes bought through Help to Buy are new-build properties.
Toughened mortgage-lending rules also came into force last month, which mean applicants are questioned more deeply about their spending habits to check they can afford to pay back their home loan.
Andrew Montlake, director at Coreco Mortgage Brokers, said anecdotal evidence suggests that a natural correction in house price growth may be on its way, with some buyers becoming less willing to pay higher prices.
He added: "The reality of any proposed tightening that affects the residential mortgage market only is that it does not deal with some of the deeper underlying issues of lack of good quality homes in high-demand areas, many of which are snapped up by cash buyers, foreign nationals and buy-to-let investors."