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Volume 449: debated on Wednesday 19 July 2006

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what recent assessment he has made of (a) house prices and (b) trends in social housing stock in Northern Ireland; and what steps he is taking to assist first-time buyers in Northern Ireland. (85436)

The Department for Social Development publishes information on houses prices and trends in social housing in its Northern Ireland Housing Statistics report. The following tables from the 2004-05 report set out the relevant information:

Table 1: Estimated median house price and percentage increase by purchasing group, October to December 2003 to October to December 20051

Purchasing group

Period October to December

Estimated median house price (£)

Percentage increase

First Time Buyers






Home Movers






1 Estimate derived from data provided to DSD, Statistics and Research Branch by the Council of Mortgage Lenders (CML).

Table 2: Trends in social housing stock 2002-05


NIHE stock

Housing Associations stock

Total stock

















1 The figure for 2005 is currently provisional.

The Northern Ireland Housing Executive also annually publishes a report on the Northern Ireland Housing Market—“Review and Perspectives”. The report covering the period 2006-09, which provides a range of housing statistics and analysis, was published in February 2006. A copy is available on its website at and can be found under the Publications/Reports/ Housing Market Reviews. I will arrange to have a copy placed in the Library.

The review indicates that since 1979 the Housing Executive has sold more than 110,000 dwellings to sitting tenants accounting for almost a quarter (24 per cent.) of the owner-occupied sector and 16 per cent. of the housing market as a whole. The 2001 House Condition Survey provided the first reliable estimate of what proportion of these had been resold on the open market. In March 2001, some 94,000 dwellings had been sold and approximately 18,000 (19 per cent.) of these had been resold on the open market: two thirds to new owner-occupiers and the remaining one third to private landlords, reflecting the fact that they generally provide a good source of high-quality affordable homes, particularly for first-time buyers and landlords who see them as a sound investment. Between 2000 and 2004 the annual house sales figure remained at over 5,000 but in 2004-05 the number of dwellings sold fell by 24 per cent. to 3,135. The reduction reflected the introduction of major revisions to the House Sales Scheme and it is envisaged that house sales will remain at between 2,500 and 3,000 over the next three year period. Annual research carried out by the University of Ulster in relation to sold Housing Executive dwellings confirms that they continue to perform well on the open market.

The co-ownership shared equity scheme remains the Department's main measure for providing assistance to first time buyers experiencing affordability problems. The scheme has been very successful assisting over 19,000 households since 1978. In recognition of this success, Government increased their funding by £23 million over the 3-year period to 2008 to provide almost £39 million and this will help support around 2,400 applicants over this period. A series of changes to the scheme have also just been introduced to make it more accessible for people on lower incomes: the basis of calculation of the co-ownership rental charge will reduce from 3.5 per cent. to 2.75 per cent. As a result a typical co-ownership home buyer with a £100,000 property on a 50:50 basis will see their monthly rental reduce from £160 to £126. The professional fees associated with buying a home through co-ownership are also being reduced from £400 to £250.

Given the sharp increase in house prices, the value limits that apply to properties eligible for purchase through co-ownership have been reviewed. The limit for the greater Belfast and Derry city council areas has increased from £115,000 to £135,000 and from £102,500 to £115,000 elsewhere.

The Department has also been examining recent initiatives which were introduced to address affordability in the rest of the UK. The Chancellor, in his last budget, announced an increase in the stamp duty threshold to £125,000, and this will specifically assist first-time buyers.