Help To Buy: Lloyds Boss Questions Scheme
The chief executive of Britain's biggest mortgage lender says he fears Help to Buy could create a dangerous bubble in property prices - just weeks after giving the Government's scheme his unequivocal support.
Antonio Horta-Osorio - head of Lloyds Banking Group - told the Financial Times that unless steps were taken to increase the number of new homes being built, there was a risk of a "substantial increase in house prices."
He said the scheme should also be tweaked to focus "outside London and the South East", while planning and building rules should be relaxed.
The Lloyds boss also called for more social housing projects so that rising mortgage approvals do not drive up house prices.
Just six weeks ago, in an interview with Sky's business presenter Jeff Randall, Mr Horta-Osorio described Help to Buy as "absolutely the right thing to do."
The Halifax, which is owned by Lloyds, is a major lender under Help to Buy, which was recently extended to include a Government guarantee on high-risk mortgages, allowing people to buy a home with a deposit of just 5%.
Mr Horta-Osorio made his comments as a leading forecaster said the efforts to revive the mortgage market had been "well-timed" and would not lead to another housing market bubble.
The Ernst and Young ITEM Club believes house prices will rise by 3.5% across Britain this year and by 6.6% in 2014.
The boss of Britain's so-called 'bad bank' also fuelled the debate by suggesting that Help to Buy could speed up the repayment of its £42bn taxpayer loan by lifting house prices.
Richard Banks, who runs UK Asset Resolution (UKAR), which manages the loans of failed lenders Northern Rock and Bradford & Bingley, said this could help lift customers out of negative equity - where loans exceed the value of their homes.
In an interview with the Times, he said: "If house prices go up outside London, it is a good thing for us as quite a few of our customers are trapped by their high loan-to-values.
"If higher house prices mean sufficient customers are able to and choose to remortgage with another mortgage provider, it may facilitate UKAR being able to pay off the Government loan more quickly."
While support for Help to Buy has been strong, so too has opposition with former Bank of England governor Lord King and the International Monetary Fund urging caution.
Recent official figures showed mortgage approvals running at a five-and-a-half-year high in August, while data from Nationwide showed house prices rose at their fastest annual rate in more than three years in September.
The strongest growth remains in London and the South East.
Lenders including Halifax, RBS and NatWest have started offering mortgages under Help to Buy while Santander, HSBC, Barclays, Virgin Money and Aldermore also plan to join it.
The scheme is expected to offer £12bn in mortgage guarantees over three years and some estimates suggest 180,000 loans could be taken out under the initiative.