Lunchtime news, 16 October

More gloom today about the future of Britain’s house price boom. In Birmingham, for example, prices have fallen by 1.5 per cent since July. A similar picture can be seen in other parts of the country. Buyers, sellers, analysts and estate agents are all trying to predict where the UK market is headed, as concern mounts that Britain could follow the US into a housing downturn with damaging consequences for the wider economy.

One reason could be mortgage companies tightening up their rules on lending. The number of rejected mortgage applications has risen by 60pc in the past six months, according to latest research from MoneyExpert. The financial comparison website found that more than 738,000 people have been turned down by mortgage firms since March, thanks to banks and building societies enforcing stricter lending criteria. In the previous six months, to March, figures show that around 463,000 people had their applications rejected.With house prices averaging 10pc more expensive than this time last year – and 20pc more than 2005 – the worst hit were first-time buyers between the ages of 25 and 34. According to MoneyExpert, around 382,000 young mortgage applicants were denied.

The news will be viewed as grim reading by politicians who fear the impact of a big housing downturn – all the signs are that it will remain one of the key issues influencing the outcome of the next general election, whenever that may be. The Prime Minister’s pledge to build three million new homes by 2020 was rather overshadowed in last week’s pre-Budget statement by the changes in inheritance tax. The Financial Times predicts that the next general election will be won and lost across a swathe of southern England that has been buoyed by an unprecedented, decade-long house price boom. Politicians will pitch for the votes of homeowners keen to protect their newfound wealth – but they cannot afford to ignore the first-time buyers currently priced out of the market.