15 February 2024

A north east schoolboy has challenged the Chancellor over support for first-time buyers – on behalf of his local building society.

Owen Ovens, editor of the school newspaper at Darlington’s Hummersknott Academy, put Jeremy Hunt on the spot after hearing about the stance being taken by Darlington Building Society.

In a forthcoming article for The Northern Echo, Chris Brown, the Society’s Products and Marketing Director, is calling on Jeremy Hunt to replace the highly successful Help to Buy Scheme and announce new support for first-time buyers in his Spring Budget on March 6.

Chris says: “The Government Help to Buy scheme was highly effective in helping first time buyers onto the property ladder, by reducing mortgage costs and increasing the supply of new properties.

“Firms have tried to fill that gap with innovative products, but I’d love the Government to bring in a similar initiative to help boost housing supply and improve affordability.”

When Owen was offered the chance to interview the Chancellor by Darlington MP Peter Gibson, he went armed with this information, and put the Society’s question directly to Mr Hunt.

The sixteen-year-old, who edits the Hummersknott Academical school newspaper, asked the Chancellor whether he had any plans to replace Help to Buy during the exclusive interview.

Mr Hunt replied: “If the housing market conditions were right, it’s something I would love to do. There are lots of things I’d love to do in a budget, but it’s certainly one of the things I would love to do if it was possible to afford it, because I do recognise that it helped people borrow money to pay for their deposit.”

Owen pressed the Chancellor further on a concern widely held by young people – whether they will ever be able to afford their own homes, or if they are destined to be a ‘generation of renters’.

Mr Hunt replied: “The number of first-time buyers increased to record levels in the run up to the pandemic. Obviously, we’ve had a very difficult period since the pandemic, but I would love to help people get onto the housing ladder in the Spring Budget.

“I think what’s caused me to hesitate up till now is that house prices have been falling because of the invasion of Ukraine. If house prices stablise, and start to rise again, then it becomes easier to start taking measures that will help people onto the housing ladder.”

Chris said: “It’s fantastic to see Owen picking up such an important issue on behalf of the younger generation. Here at Darlington Building Society, it is central to our core purpose to help people onto the property ladder, and there is a huge focus on first-time buyers. We look forward to what the Chancellor comes up with on March 6 but well done to Owen and the Hummersknott Academical for helping to put this on his agenda.”