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Policies to ease pressure on the housing market

Readers Question: What policies could be used to ease pressure on housing market?

Firstly, the main pressure in the UK housing market is the persistent and continued above inflation price increases. Back in 2004, Kate Barker’s report into housing market trends found that the UK would need to build 250,000 houses to reduce the house price inflation rate to 1.1%. But, since 2004, the UK housing market has fallen short of this target. In the middle of the recession, the number of home starts fell to just over 100,000. (Housing supply)

The  Home Builders Federation claim to catch up, we would need to increase home building to 320,000  a year – something not seen in the UK since the 1950s.

Policies to ease pressure on housing market

1. New Garden cities The building of new cities, in the mode of Milton Keynes, can enable a significant increase in homes. Currently there are plans for a new city in Ebbsfleet, Kent on the high speed railway line to London.

However, from planning to completion this will take a long time. It also means building on greenbelt land, which is likely to raise objections.

2. Government subsidy / council homes. Additional government spending to subsidise the building of ‘social’ housing could help increase supply. In the past decades, council housing has fallen out of vogue as the government have sought to sell off council housing and cut back on the building of council housing. But, it was council houses which provided a significant boost to the UK’s housing stock in the post war period.


Clement Attlee’s post-war Labour government built more than a million homes, 80% of which were council houses. In recent years, local authority building of new houses has virtually ceased. It is notable that since local authorities ceased to build homes, the UK housing shortage has become more acute. Housing associations have never been able to replace the large numbers built by local authorities.

It would require a change in political commitment and the willingness to spend extra money. Also, since the Thatcher era, the notion of council housing has gained a form of social stigma. However, it could make a big difference to the number of homes built.

3. Greater flexibility in planning. Planning restrictions are quite strict in the UK. Loosening the number of restrictions and making it easier for builders will make supply more elastic. This could involve reducing the amount of protected greenbelt land. It could also involve streamlining the regulations home-builders have to meet.

However, this could lead to significant local objections as people protest about the increased building, congestion and loss of green fields. One other solution would be to provide grants for turning derelict brown field sites into new homes.

4. Incentives for local authorities

Home building is a local issue. Local authorities have to deal with opposition to home building, so there is often local political pressure to stop house building. However greater financial incentives, such as allowing the council to keep council tax receipts from new housing developments, could give them a greater motivation to allow home building.

5. Introduction of a Planning-gain Supplement scheme

At the moment, building new houses tends to give the greatest benefit to landowners. Local residents feel they just lose out – depressed house prices, loss of unique village e.t.c. One solution is to make sure local residents near new housing schemes gain some compensation in return for accepting more houses. For example, a new housing development could be accompanied with a bypass or better public transport links. This is interesting from an economic perspective as it is seeking to provide a pareto improvement (one where everyone benefits).

The difficulty is that in the real world, it can be difficult to ensure people are compensated. Some local residents may feel there is nothing to compensate for the loss of a beautiful view. People may also exaggerate how much they lose from a new housing scheme.

6. Government’s Help to to buy

The government’s help to buy scheme is controversial because it is seeking to ease the problem through helping homeowners borrow more money. Critics argue this merely fuels demand and keeps prices artificially high.

However, to some extent, the Help to Buy scheme has provided some incentive for private builders to increase supply. In particular the first part of the scheme which offers buyers an interest-free loan worth up to 20% of the value of a new-build home. This increased demand for new build homes, encourages house builders because they are more confident there will be demand for the new homes. Continue Reading →

UK House Price to income ratio and affordability

An examination of UK house price affordability.

In 2013, UK house prices rose 8%, and most forecasters expect UK house prices to continue to rise above inflation in the short term. However, there is a big concern that house prices are already unaffordable for most first time buyers. In many parts of the country, potential buyers are being kept out of the market due to house prices being much  higher than average incomes. Because of the lack of affordable housing, many have criticised the government’s Right to Buy scheme – which concentrates on helping people get a bigger mortgage rather than deal with disequilibrium of supply and demand.

UK nominal house prices since 2002


Mortgage payments as % of income

One useful measure of housing affordability is to look at  mortgage payments as a percentage of income. In this regard, it doesn’t look too bad.


ONS house price index Nov, 2013

Since interest rates were cut in 2009, mortgage payments have fallen to a near 20 year low of just 16% of income.

  • However, when interest rates rise, many homeowners will see a nasty shock of rapidly rising mortgage payments.
  • Also, rising house prices have required a bigger deposit. This means many who might be able to afford mortgage payments are unable to get a mortgage in the first place

Deposits required for first time buyers


The deposit required has risen particularly for first time buyers. from 10% of purchase price in 1995 to 23% in 2012.

Ratio of house prices to income

Another way to examine the affordability of house prices is to look at the ratio of house prices to income.

This ignores the unusually low interest rates affecting cost of mortgage payments and gives an indication of long term trends.

ftb-house-pirce-earningsSource: Nationwide

Firstly, there is a big regional disparity. First time buyers in London are seeing house prices at a record 7.5 times average earnings. For the UK as a whole, the ratio of 4.3 is still above long term trends. It is a higher ratio than the end of the 1980s housing boom.

Mortgage payments as a % of take home pay for first time buyers

For first time buyers taking on large mortgages, the mortgage payments are still taking up a big % of take home pay – despite the low interest rates. The average mortgage payments is lower for average homeowners because many householders took out a mortgage when house prices were cheaper.

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