Help to Buy housing scheme welcomed by NI housing minister

House being built Housing Minister Nelson McCausland said the scheme could benefit the local economy

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The government's Help to Buy mortgage scheme will be a "welcome boost" for Northern Ireland's economy, Housing Minister Nelson McCausland has said.

The government's initiative is designed to allow those who can afford only small deposits to buy a home.

Ulster Bank is the only one so far of Northern Ireland's 'big four' banks to indicate it will participate.

Other banks have suggested they are reviewing the details before making a decision on whether to join.

Details of the scheme, aimed at allowing people to get a mortgage with a deposit of just 5%, were published on Tuesday.

Mr McCausland said it could "give many more local people an opportunity to enter the housing market".

"I am delighted that many banks have already decided to get involved and I hope more will be looking to see what new mortgages products they could offer," he said.

Bank of Ireland would not confirm if it would be joining the scheme and said it was reviewing the situation.

Danske Bank has not yet made a decision but said it already offered 95% mortgages.

There has been no response as yet from First Trust.

However, Ulster Bank said: "We welcome the Help to Buy scheme and will announce details of our participation in due course."

Applications

Its parent company RBS and sister bank NatWest are among lenders which have unveiled the cost of mortgages they plan to offer. Both banks are offering a two-year, fixed-rate mortgage starting at 4.99% for those with a 5% deposit, with no fee.

RBS, NatWest and Halifax will start taking applications this week, with HSBC, Virgin Money, Lloyds, TSB and Aldermore joining later. That means lenders representing about 40% of the UK mortgage market have committed to the scheme.

However, the cautious approach taken by Northern Ireland's banks was mirrored by three of the largest mortgage lenders, with Barclays, Santander and Nationwide Building Society all saying they were reviewing the details of the scheme, published on Tuesday, before reaching a decision on participation.

Under this phase of the scheme, buyers across the UK only need to provide a small deposit, with the government offering a guarantee of 15% of the loan to the lender - for a fee - to encourage the bank or building society to offer the loan.

That fee charged to the lender is up to 0.9% of the original loan level. This is a one-off fee dealt with entirely by the lender, which guarantees 15% of the mortgage for seven years.

Borrowers who apply will face checks to make sure that they can afford the mortgage payments. The Council of Mortgage Lenders (CML), which represents lenders, said affordability checks would be as "rigorous" as they were with any borrower.

The scheme will be available for first-time buyers and home movers borrowing to buy new and old homes valued at no more than £600,000. It is expected to continue for three years.

It means a buyer looking to purchase a home costing £200,000 would have to put down a deposit of around £10,000. Demands have been much higher than this for many first-time buyers since the start of the financial crisis, usually about 20% of the value of a home.

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