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Housebuilders must stand on their own as HTB will not last forever – Bamford

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  • 28/10/2019
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Housebuilders must stand on their own as HTB will not last forever – Bamford
The Help to Buy scheme has hit the headlines recently, after a somewhat scathing review from the cross-party Public Accounts Committee (PAC) which questioned its value for money, its success and whether it remained the right way for government to address UK housing’s ongoing supply-side issues.

 

There is also speculation about its future, not least because of the political uncertainty at present.  

It seems, for instance, highly unlikely that were the Labour party to win the next general election that it would wish to continue with the scheme, even if it is due to be solely focused on first-time buyers from April 2021. 

A returning Conservative government – with any kind of majority – would however be likely to retain the scheme, given that it’s considered a significant success by many within the party.  

 

Boosting profits

Certainly, house builders and developers who participate in Help to Buy would be in a far different position had it not been introduced, and one might cynically suggest that the profits of those participants would be nowhere near their current levels were it not for the scheme. 

One wonders however if the future of Help to Buy is so assured – not just if there is a change of government but in any circumstance.  

The PAC criticisms are damning, to say the least, arguing that the £29bn of taxpayers’ money, which the scheme is due to spend by 2023, could have been better spent with a government/council housebuilding programme, rather than carrying this out via private house builders. 

While it accepts that new build house supply has increased by 14 per cent since the inception of the scheme, it is not enamoured of what it believes is a lack of an exit strategy, and it therefore wonders aloud, what happens next? 

You would have to argue that this is a fair point. 

 

Must stand on its own

Since the scheme started we at AmTrust have often looked at it and suggested it has been something of a success, with some obvious problems, but also argued that this is a market that has to stand on its own two feet, and government support cannot go on forever.  

This gets to the heart of the problem of what to do with Help to Buy?  

How do you wean the biggest housebuilders in the country off a scheme which, in many cases, is responsible for the vast majority of their new builds and profits? Given the increased profits it has delivered, you can already see the strength of the pushback developing, should the scheme be cut at any point in the future. 

However, is Help to Buy now the right scheme for the government?

My view is that the move towards a first-time buyer only scheme is absolutely right – as with most government intervention, there is an argument to suggest that it only helps the people who were going to purchase in the first place, rather than those who are someway off getting onto the ladder.  

The PAC was very critical of the scheme being open to those, who it viewed, as being able to buy without government support, although you may find exactly the same issue when only first-timers are eligible. Perhaps it is just the nature of such government intervention? 

 

How can the scheme be replaced?

The sticking point is of course how the scheme might be brought to a close? Help to Buy has now been extended a number of times and, certainly with this government, there does not appear to be any alternative ready to be dropped in.  

The Labour party might have a radical alternative and its likely to be providing councils with funding to build, but this outcome is of course predicated on it winning an election. 

For what it’s worth, I suspect the status quo will sustain for the near future, however one does have to argue that this cannot go on forever.  

Greater development of high loan to value mortgages, allowing those with smaller deposits to buy, must become a priority.

The big question is, can the government hope to achieve the necessary supply levels required in order to allow first-time buyers the greater choice of property they so clearly need?

 

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