Scotland business

Utility bills drive up Scottish home running costs

The cost of owning and running a home in Scotland has risen by £116 in the year to March, according to economists.

While mortgage payments fell, the cost of energy bills and repairs put the total up by 1.4%, to an average £8,641.

The Bank of Scotland research showed costs were lower than three years ago because of the mortgage element - but only by 1.8%, or £159 on average.

This was a smaller fall in costs than any part of England, but slightly bigger than Wales and Northern Ireland.

In London, the cost owning and running a home fell by 5.9%, which is explained by the high share of household income spent on mortgages.

The study indicated that the cost of mortgages, including lower interest rates with capital repayments, had fallen by 21% - about £796 on average.

That fall continued over the year to March, with a fall of 3%.

However, other costs rose by 13% in the three years to March - with inflation putting up average prices by 10%.

Utility bills, including electricity and gas, have risen fastest of any household spending category - up 19%, or £259 since 2008.

The cost of maintenance and repairs was up by 17%.

Earnings concern

For those renting their home, costs have risen during the three years by 10%.

Suren Thiru, housing economist at Lloyds Banking Group, which includes Bank of Scotland, said: "Household finances remain under pressure with the significant drop in mortgage payments since 2008 mostly offset by increases in other household bills.

"Rising utility bills have been a clear driver behind this, along with increases in maintenance costs and council tax charges.

"The current strain on household finances is particularly concerning at a time when earnings growth remains weak."

A separate report on the housing market by a Glasgow University professor has called for "urgent and fundamental reform of the housing market to avoid the damaging rollercoaster of boom and bust".

Mark Stephens, an urban studies expert, has drawn together evidence for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF), which recommends reform to council tax that links tax bills to home valuations.

Until that can happen, it says there should be more bands, and wider variation in costs of council tax.

It says stamp duty should be more evenly increased for higher cost homes, in a similar way to income tax. That way, higher rate duty would be charged only on higher tranches of the price being paid.

It says there must be action to increase the supply of housing, as shortages lead to price volatility, but it argues that will not be enough to stabilise the market.

'Boom seeds sewn'

The report argues that lenders should be pressed to lend responsibly, taking more steps to ensure borrowers understand their mortgages and what they can afford.

The Rowntree report also proposes reform to mortgage insurance, including lenders and government in preparing to meet mortgage payments when borrowers lose income through redundancy or illness.

Julia Unwin, chief executive of the JRF, said: "Since the 1970s, there have been four boom and bust cycles in the housing market.

"This persistent instability distorts housing choices, inhibits house-building, and drives arrears and possession rates, putting people at great risk, and creates wealth inequality between the generations.

"We have set out to provide a series of policy options that together would help provide long-term stability in the market.

"I urge policy-makers to look at these and act now, because the seeds of the next housing boom have already been sown."

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