Lunchtime news Tuesday 1 July

The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors is calling for a change in stamp duty laws that will benefit first-time buyers and poorer pensioners. Homebuyers have paid £31.5 billion in stamp duty tax during the past 10 years and experts say that neither of these groups should pay a penny more in a long overdue shake up of the current regime which it says is ‘unfair and ineffecient’. RICS feels that groups like pensioners who are only ‘asset rich but income poor’ should not have to pay such a large tax.

Nationwide released its house price index for June this morning. House prices fell on average by 0.9 per cent for the month. Although not as big as the record 2.5 per cent figure in May, it is a growing trend that now sees house prices 6.3 per cent lower than the same time last year and falling for the eighth straight month. The credit crunch and difficulty in getting good mortgage deals is to blame and has led tomany potential buyers staying put.

A 200 strong crowd – armed with a petition signed by more 60,000 people – gathered outside parliament yesterday to protest about eco-towns. The Conservative Party used the protest to announce that it was withdrawing its support of the governement’s proposed sites. Grant Shapps, oppostion housing spokesman, said that a series of government u-turns had ‘watered down’ the green component of the towns and ‘they would never be built’. But the government may seek to push through the towns through the new planning Bill recently passed in the Commons. Housing minister Caroline Flint has proposed that the housing corporation should pay larger upfront sums of money to developers (up to 80 per cent of the cost of a property rather than the 50 per cent now), to improve their cashflow. As part of a wider plan, Ms Flint is also likely to announce broadening of the range of organisations that can build homes; reforms to the mortgage market, such as allowing the housing corporation to act as a clearing house for unsold properties; and a new way of bringing land to the market for building.

As many as 15,000 estate agent jobs could be lost this year as commercial property agents are expected to cut or freeze 75 per cent of staffing, as the lack of cheap bank credit and a decline in property prices halts expansion in business. Meanwhile John Charcol, one of Britain’s biggest mortgage brokers, has announced it will cut its workforce by a quarter and close three offices, after a severe contraction in the mortgage market.