The annual English Housing Survey is out and makes for fascinating reading as always. The main interest in the media has been the discouraging news that the rate of home ownership has fallen. This latest survey shows it was 65.2 per cent in 2012/13, down from 65.3 per cent the previous year. So a fall of just 0.1 per cent. This is based on interviews with 13,652 households. I would guess that 0.1 per cent either way would be within the margin or error.

It would be probably be fair to say 2012/13 was the year the situation stabilised after quite sharp falls since 2005 when it was 70.7 per cent. Of course for Conservatives, with a belief in wider opportunities, that is not good enough.

Still, there are reasonable grounds for optimism that in the current financial year we are already seeing the rate of home ownership increase. An encouraging sign comes in the quarterly right to buy figures this morning. There were 2,845 sales between October and December – that is an increase of 42 per cent on the previous year. The Help to Buy programme, according to figures also out today, saw 14,823 properties bough with equity loans by the end of January – the first ten months of the scheme.

According to statistics from the Bank of England in December the value of residential loans advanced to first time buyers is at its highest rate since 2007. While last month the Halifax said that the number of first time buyers is now at its highest level since 2007, with 265,000 first time buyers across the UK in 2013, and up 22 per cent on 2012

Certainly more should be done. Stamp Duty is a terrible punishment for home ownership and is even more painful given higher property prices. That is a matter the Chancellor should address in the budget.

Also little has been done about boosting home ownership for housing association tenants.

Even so the rate of home ownership is probably already rising and that is likely to be confirmed in next year’s survey.

There are a couple of other encouraging in the English Housing Survey regarding other matters.

Fewer people are living in council tower blocks. For 2011/12  we had an estimated 178,000 properties “purpose built, flats high” belonging to local authorities. (Table 12). The latest available figure for 2012/13 is 157,000. (The survey defines “high” as anything over six storeys.) An encouraging sign for Create Streets perhaps. Sadly some new tower blocks are still going up but rather more are being demolished. It is being increasingly proven that redevelopment schemes are possible providing high density without high rise.

Another piece of good news is that overcrowding in social housing has fallen. It was 241,000 compared to 249,000 the previous year. The number in the social housing sector under-occupying fell from 386,000 the previous year.(Table 10.) This was just before the introduction of the spare room subsidy cut although many with spare rooms would have been seeking to swap in anticipation of the reduction in their Housing Benefit. Of course it is to be hoped that with the policy now well under way a further reduction in overcrowding will have since taken place.

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