Government schemes to help first-time buyers

All first-time buyers can afford a new home if they earn less than £60,000. Jane Barry tells you how
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Explore Living development in Fusion, Chertsey
From £219,995: two-bedroom Homebuy Direct flats are available on a 121-home Explore Living scheme at Fusion, in Chertsey, Surrey (0845 872 1003)
As more and more initiatives spring up to help average-income Londoners defy the capital's property market and find affordable homes, you could be forgiven for feeling bewildered.

Just how do you set about house-hunting if you want to buy through one of these government-subsidised schemes?

How can you be sure you qualify? Which scheme would suit you - should you go for shared ownership or an equity loan?

To buy any government-funded home, whatever the scheme, you need to be registered with a HomeBuy agent.

These are housing associations appointed by the Government's Homes and Communities Agency to co-ordinate affordable housing sales. In London there are two - Metropolitan for the north, east and west, and London & Quadrant for the south.

Together they run the website Housing Options, which allows you to apply online. You'll be assessed for eligibility - much simpler these days, you just need to be a first-time buyer earning £60,000 or less - and advised what sort of scheme would suit you financially.

The website also allows you to view the entire range of affordable homes available throughout London. And Housing Options runs property shows too - the London Affordable New Homes Show is on 20 June 2009 at Wembley Stadium's Great Hall. Visit

On hand to help

If the website leaves you dizzy from sheer choice and you're not sure about filling in the application form, your local council may be able to help.

Westminster council has just launched its own Homeownership service to encourage middle-income first-time buyers, particularly those who work in the borough, to investigate the options available.

"We've had a relatively low take-up of affordable products up to now," admits Philippa Roe, Westminster's cabinet member for housing. This may be because people are discouraged by the very high price of property in the area. But Roe feels they are also confused by all the various schemes.

Explore Living development in Fusion, Chertsey
Fusion, in Surrey, is less than a five minute walk from Chertsey train station offering links to London Waterloo in just over an hour. Visit
Homeownership Westminster, run by Catalyst Housing Group, helps you register with a HomeBuy agent, gives you information about the homes on offer - £81,000 for a 25 per cent share in a one-bedroom flat in Pimlico, for instance - and supports you with financial advice.

Houses and flats to rent in Westminster
Houses and flats for sale in Westminster

Wandsworth council, which pioneered shared ownership 30 years ago, also has its own Home Ownership Unit and has helped more than 27,000 first-time buyers find homes.

"We have unrivalled experience and expertise in helping people take their first steps on to the housing ladder," says a Wandsworth spokesman. Or you could talk directly to the housing associations advertising homes where you want to live.

They'll guide you through the buying process, assessing your needs, helping you register and offering access to independent financial and legal advice - some can even put you in touch with a mortgage lender.

Sharon Cummings of Genesis, which specialises in shared ownership, says: "Less than one per cent of our applicants come through HomeBuy agents; they come from our own waiting lists and our research when we're planning developments." Of course, shared ownership is a well-established scheme offered by virtually all housing associations.

'UpToYou is a scheme that lets you buy a share in the property at any time but you don't have to'

For the two newest schemes, rent-to-buy and HomeBuy Direct, Housing Options remains the first port of call. Rent-to-buy, where you rent a home at below market rate with the option of buying a share later, is offered by only a few housing associations and the deals vary.

L&Q, wearing its housing-association hat, has just launched a rent-to-buy scheme as part of Mayor Boris Johnson's First Steps initiative. Backed by £42 million from the Homes and Communities Agency, the scheme, called UpToYou, lets you rent at 80 per cent of market rate for as long as you like - you can buy a share in the property at any time but you don't have to. There will be 1,400 UpToYou homes, with 500 already on stream.

The equity loan scheme

HomeBuy Direct, the equity loan scheme available through developers, is also taking off. The deal offers you a 30 per cent loan towards the cost of your new home, interest-free for five years. Metropolitan is the sole HomeBuy agent for HomeBuy Direct.

Participating developers include Barratt and Explore Living, while mortgage lenders Woolwich, Halifax and Royal Bank of Scotland support the scheme.

Beata Gorecka
Beata Gorecka in her rent-to-buy flat at Elysee, Wandsworth

Freedom to be flexible

PA Beata Gorecka, 37, has snapped up one of L& Q's UpToYou rent-to-buy flats at the Elysee, Wandsworth.

She pays £700 rent per month on the £175,000 apartment. "If I like it I can buy it," she says. "It's quite a nice thing to do, rather than rushing into a mortgage. There is this great flexibility of being able to buy a share or, if you like, the whole flat."

Houses and flats to rent in Wandsworth
Houses and flats for sale in Wandsworth


London HomeBuy agents; call 0845 230 8099, or visit

London Affordable New Homes Show, Wembley Stadium, the Great Hall, Wembley, HA9 0WS, 20 June 2009, 11am to 4pm. Visit

Homeownership Westminster; call 0845 437 9701, or visit

Wandsworth Home Ownership Unit; call 020 8871 6016, or visit

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