Five questions answered on the spreading housing market boom

Barratt comments.

Barratt Developments, a house building company, has said the recovery in the housing market is spreading outside of London. We answer five questions on Barratt’s comments.

What exactly has Barratt’s said?

In a release announcing the company’s final results for the year ended 30 June 2013, chief executive Mark Clare said:

"We are seeing the housing market recovery starting to spread beyond London and the South East.”

What is the company attributing this to?

An improvement in the mortgage market. Barratt's chairman Bob Lawson said:

"Significant progress has been made on the availability of finance for customers and the mortgage providers' capacity to lend has slowly improved.”

"This has been accelerated by a series of Government mortgage initiatives - FirstBuy, NewBuy and Help to Buy,” he added.

Has the recovering market resulted in them seeing a rise in profit?

Yes, the group reported pre-tax profits for the year to the end of June of £104.8m, up from £100m the previous year.

Its average selling price rose to £194,800 up 7.9 per cent from the previous year's figure of £180,500.

The group has also cut its debt to £25.9m from £167.7m at the end of June 2012.

Does this mean it has plans to build many more houses in the country?

The group said they plan to complete about 45,000 new homes over the next three years.

Has any one else echoed these reports of a spreading housing recovery?

Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (Rics) said earlier in the week that there was a pick-up in the market in areas beyond London and the South East of England.

According to the institution the number of homes for sale across the UK increased in August but still did not match demand.

However, The Council of Mortgage Lenders said the pace of housing activity in the country was only "moderate," according to the BBC.

"The UK property market is actually a complex and dynamic patchwork of regional and local conditions in different locations across the UK," the lenders' group told its website.

Photograph: Getty Images

Heidi Vella is a features writer for Nridigital.com

Paul McMillan
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"We're an easy target": how a Tory manifesto pledge will tear families apart

Under current rules, bringing your foreign spouse to the UK is a luxury reserved for those earning £18,600 a year or more. The Tories want to make it even more exclusive. 

Carolyn Matthew met her partner, George, in South Africa sixteen years ago. She settled down with him, had kids, and lived like a normal family until last year, when they made the fateful decision to move to her hometown in Scotland. Matthew, 55, had elderly parents, and after 30 years away from home she wanted to be close to them. 

But Carolyn nor George - despite consulting a South African immigration lawyer – did not anticipate one huge stumbling block. That is the rule, introduced in 2012, that a British citizen must earn £18,600 a year before a foreign spouse may join them in the UK. 

“It is very dispiriting,” Carolyn said to me on the telephone from Bo’ness, a small town on the Firth of Forth, near Falkirk. “In two weeks, George has got to go back to South Africa.” Carolyn, who worked in corporate complaints, has struggled to find the same kind of work in her hometown. Jobs at the biggest local employer tend to be minimum wage. George, on the other hand, is an engineer – yet cannot work because of his holiday visa. 

To its critics, the minimum income threshold seems nonsensical. It splits up families – including children from parents – and discriminates against those likely to earn lower wages, such as women, ethnic minorities and anyone living outside London and the South East. The Migration Observatory has calculated that roughly half Britain’s working population would not meet the requirement. 

Yet the Conservative party not only wishes to maintain the policy, but hike the threshold. The manifesto stated:  “We will increase the earnings thresholds for people wishing to sponsor migrants for family visas.” 

Initially, the threshold was justified as a means of preventing foreign spouses from relying on the state. But tellingly, the Tory manifesto pledge comes under the heading of “Controlling Immigration”. 

Carolyn points out that because George cannot work while he is visiting her, she must support the two of them for months at a time without turning to state aid. “I don’t claim benefits,” she told me. “That is the last thing I want to do.” If both of them could work “life would be easy”. She believes that if the minimum income threshold is raised any further "it is going to make it a nightmare for everyone".

Stuart McDonald, the SNP MP for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East, co-sponsored a Westminster Hall debate on the subject earlier this year. While the Tory manifesto pledge is vague, McDonald warns that one option is the highest income threshold suggested in 2012 - £25,700, or more than the median yearly wage in the East Midlands. 

He described the current scheme as “just about the most draconian family visa rules in the world”, and believes a hike could affect more than half of British citizens. 

"Theresa May is forcing people to choose between their families and their homes in the UK - a choice which most people will think utterly unfair and unacceptable,” he said.  

For those a pay rise away from the current threshold, a hike will be demoralising. For Paul McMillan, 25, it is a sign that it’s time to emigrate.

McMillan, a graduate, met his American girlfriend Megan while travelling in 2012 (the couple are pictured above). He could find a job that will allow him to meet the minimum income threshold – if he were not now studying for a medical degree.  Like Matthew, McMillan’s partner has no intention of claiming benefits – in fact, he expects her visa would specifically ban her from doing so. 

Fed up with the hostile attitude to immigrants, and confident of his options elsewhere, McMillan is already planning a career abroad. “I am going to take off in four years,” he told me. 

As for why the Tories want to raise the minimum income threshold, he thinks it’s obvious – to force down immigration numbers. “None of this is about the amount of money we need to earn,” he said. “We’re an easy target for the government.”

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

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