Mortgage approvals above average in February in race against stamp duty hike


The number of mortgages approved to home buyers was higher than average in February as buy-to-let landlords rushed to beat a stamp duty hike.

Bank of England figures showed that 73,871 loans for house purchase with a total value of £13 billion were approved in February – compared with an average of 70,991 over the previous six months.

February’s figure was slightly down on the 74,085 mortgages given the go-ahead for house purchase in January.

Some 40,749 loans worth £7.3 billion collectively were also approved for re-mortgaging in February, which is broadly in line with the six-month average, the Bank said.

From Friday, people buying second homes, including buy-to-let landlords, will pay three percentage points above previous stamp duty rates when they buy a property.

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Earlier this week, the National Association of Estate Agents (NAEA) reported that its members have seen a surge of interest from investors as the deadline has approached.

Mark Harris, chief executive of mortgage broker SPF Private Clients, said: “Mortgage approvals in February were higher than the monthly average over the past six months, which is no surprise even though it would normally be a relatively quiet time of year before the housing market’s traditional spring rush.

“This time around, landlords and second home buyers have been keen to beat the stamp duty hike from April, by ensuring th

“We expect the number of mortgage approvals for March to also be high, before they fall back in April as the market takes a breath and reassesses where it is at.”

Funeral support payments system needs overhaul, MPs say

Ministers are facing calls from MPs to overhaul the system of funeral support payments amid warnings some families are unable to afford to bury their loved ones.

The Commons Work and Pensions Committee said the maximum award for essential funeral costs under the means-tested social fund funeral payment (SFFP) system had been frozen at £700 for 13 years and now no longer covered the cost of a “simple” funeral.

The committee said it had heard “distressing” evidence of one mother who was forced to freeze her son’s body for months while she saved to pay for a funeral and of bereaved people who were denied their relative’s ashes because of a shortfall in the final payment.

It urged the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to negotiate with the representatives of funeral directors to agree a reasonable cost for a simple “fair funeral” and then set the maximum SFFP accordingly.

The committee also called for the system of bereavement benefits to be extended to cover cohabiting couples who are not married or in a civil partnership.

“F uneral payments for those who can prove they are entitled – and that is a very uncertain and onerous process – now fall far short of covering even a basic funeral,” committee chairman Frank Field said.

“We heard clear evidence of the distressing circumstances and debt this is leading people into, at a time when they are grieving and vulnerable. We do not want a return to the spectre of miserable ‘pauper’s funerals’.

“The support for widowed parents is also badly outdated, with benefits denied to cohabiting parents. Penalising a child on the grounds of their parents’ marital status is as unjust as it is anachronistic.”

A DWP spokesman said: “We are modernising bereavement benefits, introducing a simpler and fairer scheme that will better assist people in what can be an extremely difficult time.

“The planned new bereavement support payment will provide a higher lump sum payment than currently is offered and more people will be able to claim this full support now we have removed the lower age limit.”

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