Help to Buy housing scheme could be 'pared back', says Nick Clegg
- 18 May 2014
- From the section Business
The government's Help to Buy scheme could be "pared back" if the Bank of England believes the housing market is overheating, Nick Clegg has said.
The deputy prime minister was speaking after Bank governor Mark Carney warned of the dangers the booming market posed to long-term financial stability.
Mr Carney said the Bank was considering providing advice on "changing the terms" of the mortgage help scheme.
He also said not enough homes were being built to meet demand.
Prime Minister David Cameron said Mr Carney was "absolutely right" that not enough new houses were being built, and said Help to Buy had been "hugely helpful" in bringing forward new developments.
The two-pronged Help to Buy scheme aims to assist people who can afford mortgage repayments but are struggling to raise a deposit. Prices in many areas have risen since its launch.
Asked about Mr Carney's comments, Mr Clegg told the BBC's Andrew Marr: "I think if he says that we need to pare back on some of the government schemes like Help to Buy, then I think we should do so.
"And he's certainly right when he says of course the big long-term problem is we simply don't build enough homes in this country. We haven't done so for years, we're making progress now, but we need to do much more in the future."
BBC political correspondent Alan Soady said the government had always insisted its Help to Buy schemes did not risk inflating a house-price bubble.
He said: "The inference of Nick Clegg's remarks today is that he thinks it's at least possible that the schemes might be adding heat to the housing market after all."
In an interview with Sky News, Mr Carney said the Bank was "closely watching" rising property prices and the subsequent increase in large-value mortgages, which he warned could lead to a "debt overhang" which could destabilise the economy.
He said: "When we look at domestic risk, the biggest risk to financial stability and therefore to the durability of the expansion [of the economy]; those risks centre in the housing market."
Twice as many houses were built in his native Canada each year as in the UK, he said, adding that the Bank of England had no solution to this as it "will not be building houses any time soon".
Commenting on action the Bank could take, he said: "We could limit amounts of certain types of mortgages that banks could undertake, we could provide advice - the chancellor has asked us if we would provide advice on changing the terms of Help to Buy - all those things are possibilities and we will consider them all."
Official government figures show the country began work on 133,650 homes in the year to March, a rise of 31% on the year before.
But a former government advisory body has said the UK needs to build almost 300,000 homes a year until 2031 to meet current demand.
The construction sector was badly hit during the economic downturn, and builders have argued that planning laws are too restrictive despite government reforms.
Developers have also been accused of "hoarding" land that is ready to be built on.
According to the government, Help to Buy was used to buy 17,000 homes in its first nine months, at an average price of £194,992.
Earlier this month, Chancellor George Osborne told the BBC he had given the Bank of England the "tools to intervene in the housing market".
"They should not hesitate to use the tools that I've given them if they think it will help with economic stability", he said.
Mr Cameron, who was also interviewed on Sky News, said the Bank had the powers it needed to prevent a new housing "bubble" developing.
But he said Mr Carney was "absolutely right" that more houses needed to be built.
He said: "The building of houses is going up. If you talk to any housing developer at the moment, or builder, they will tell you that the Help to Buy scheme... has been hugely helpful in bringing forward more development or house building."
Shadow chancellor Ed Balls said Mr Carney's warning on house supply "puts the ball firmly in George Osborne's court".
Calling for the £600,000 limit on Help to Buy to be reduced, he said: "The chancellor cannot wash his hands of what's happening in the housing market."
Former Conservative Chancellor Lord Lawson told BBC Radio 4's The World This Weekend the government would accept Mr Carney's advice if he offered it.
He added: "So it is up to him to decide, is he going to do it, is he going to advise them to do it or not. And I think just sort of bleating about it, however well justified his views are, is not really what he should be doing."
Campbell Robb, chief executive of housing charity Shelter, said measures to stabilise the market had to go "hand in hand" with the building of more homes.