Far from home

4th May 2007 at 01:00
As house prices continue to skyrocket, leaving salaries trailing in their wake, teachers working in some of the country's most expensive areas wonder if they will ever get a foot on the ladder. Hannah Frankel reports on the options available

Wealthy parents may be able to afford the expensive housing surrounding popular schools, but that is rarely the case for the people who work there.

Teachers cannot afford to buy homes in seven out of 10 UK towns, according to a new report from the Halifax. Of 517 towns, the bank deems 363 unaffordable for teachers. In 2001, the figure was 124.

The finding makes grim reading for teachers, who have been badly affected by the rapid rise in British house prices. Over the past five years, prices have doubled, with 2006 becoming another bumper year. The situation may become even more dire in the light of below-inflation pay rises for teachers.

The capital is particularly notorious when it comes to high house prices, and nowhere more so than the gravity-defying London borough of Kensington and Chelsea.

Already the most expensive place to buy a house in Britain, last year house prices rose by another 16.3 per cent - the greatest leap in the UK.

According to the Land Registry, which collates data for every sale in England and Wales, an average home in the royal borough cost pound;677,318 in 2006 - an increase of pound;95,000 on the previous year.

In Hull, the average home costs pound;84,700. But, Hugh Donohoe, Kensington and Chelsea spokesman, says house prices are rarely mentioned in exit interviews with teachers. As the borough measures just five square miles it is within easy reach of less expensive areas, Hugh argues, although he admits some parts remain out of teachers' grasp. The average house in Kensington Square, for example, will set you back pound;5.5 million. "There is a saying round here that lottery winners need not apply," says Hugh. "It's unlikely to ever be enough."

So where does that leave London workers? It has left Trudie Masterson, a headmistress of a prep school, with a daily six-hour commute in an attempt to avoid high London costs. Every day she gets up at 4.15am. She then travels from her home near Yeovil, Somerset, to the school in Clapham, south London - a 260 mile round trip that she believes saves her money. "I decided to commute rather than rent in London because it was cheaper overall," she says. "I have also considered bed and breakfasts but prices seem to be the same as commuting and it could get quite lonely."

Instead, Trudie spends pound;130 a week on travel, which includes driving to the station to catch a 5.15am train to London before catching a bus to school. "I sleep on the train in and work or read on the way back. It's not to be recommended but I need the job and the salary."

Teachers unwilling to commute those sorts of distances into London are finding the prospect of getting on to the housing ladder increasingly difficult. Caroline Dove, 27, teaches RE and philosophy at the London Oratory School in Fulham, another expensive borough. She rents a room in a house close to the school so that she can walk to work and socialise with her colleagues.

Although she can live off her pound;31,000 salary, it is not enough to invest in a property. "I pay about pound;700 a month including bills on rent and another pound;300 a month to pay off my student loan. I would like to get a place of my own but even with a mortgage of pound;150,000 and a Government allowance of pound;50,000, the mortgage repayments would stretch me beyond belief."

The key worker living programme (KWL) is available to help people like Caroline. The scheme, which was introduced in 2004, offered a leg-up to almost 5,000 teachers within its first two years, by giving interest-free loans of up to pound;100,000, although the more typical loan for non Fast Track teachers is pound;50,000. That may still not be enough for your average single teacher in London, who will be looking at an average house price of pound;314,550 - eight times their salary.

Shared ownership schemes are emerging as the most promising option for teachers. The initiative allows you to own a minimum 35 per cent share in a property while paying subsidised rent on the rest, with the option of increasing your share when you can afford it.

"I'm interested in shared ownership but the problem is that you are still throwing a fair amount of money away on rent," says Lisa Strange, 23, a new teacher at a primary school in Harrow, north west London. She lives with her boyfriend, an accountant, but finds it hard to save for a deposit while earning pound;22,554 a year and spending pound;450 a month on rent.

The Open Market HomeBuy scheme, which was launched last year, is more attractive to some because it allows participants the freedom to choose their own home. It is primarily aimed at those who live in London and the East or South-east of England, although it is available on a more limited scale in other areas as well. It enables people to buy 75 per cent of a property, with an equity loan from the Government and a lender covering the rest of the cost. However, the popularity of the scheme is placing unprecedented demand on resources. Funding can run out just months into the financial year, especially now that the second phase of KWL has been slimmed down.

Between 2004-06, the scheme was allocated pound;725 million, a lot more than the pound;400 million ring-fenced for 2006-2008. So interested teachers need to act fast and be persistent to avoid disappointment.

There is less support still for those who live in expensive hotspots outside London. The average house price now stands at pound;173,717 in England and Wales, with house prices in Northern Ireland rocketing up more than anywhere else in Europe. Even traditionally inexpensive parts of the UK are booming. Lochgelly in Fife used to be the only place in Britain where the average cost of a house was still under pound;100,000.

However, according to a new survey by the Halifax, even it has broken the six-figure threshold, with the typical home now changing hands for Pounds 104,738. At the other end of the scale, Cheshire has earned a reputation as "footballer's country", and the house prices in places such as Prestbury reflect their WAGs' penchant for the finer things in life.

Unlike the capital, there is no assistance in the shape of London weighting, even though the average house price (pound;203,397) is over the national average. "There are no particular schemes to help teachers get on the housing ladder because we've never had a problem with recruiting," says Ian Callister, Cheshire spokesman, "but they do what other young professionals do and share."


* Open Market HomeBuy - Pay 75 per cent of the property price, with an equity loan covering the balance: www.homebuy.co.ukwww.communities.gov.ukindex.asp?id=1162813

* Social HomeBuy - enabling local authority and housing association tenants to buy a share in the property where they currently live: www.housingcorp.gov.ukservershownav.554

* New Build HomeBuy (including the First Time Buyers Initiative) - buy a share in a newly built property and pay subsidised rent on the rest: www.housingcorp.gov.ukservershownav.550

* Intermediate rent - rent at a level between that charged by social and private landlords: www.housingoptions.co.ukho2ho2what_is_IR.asp

* Shared ownership - part buy and part rent your home: www.shared-ownership.org.uk


Becky Routh, 29, a teacher at Tyssen Community Primary School in Hackney, east London, tried to get a flat through the Open Market Homebuy scheme but found it frustrating.

"I was told that I could afford a property worth pound;143,000, which is totally ridiculous. You can't afford anything with that in London unless you spend lots of money doing it up. My financial adviser said he'd spoken to 10 key workers that day and the scheme had been rejected by all of them."

It is then Becky discovered the shared ownership scheme. On a salary of Pounds 29,000, she was able to buy half a new one-bedroom flat in Clacton, Hackney, for pound;105,000. She now pays pound;330 a month in rent to the housing association and pound;500 a month in mortgage repayments.

"My monthly outgoings are still quite high, but I don't think it's more than I would be paying if I was to rent a one-bedroom flat. I've got a foot on the housing ladder, can walk to work in just 25 minutes and am in a flat I love. My friends at school are now doing the same."


Five most affordable places

* Lochgelly, Scotland

* Bellshill, Scotland

* Clydebank, Scotland

* Wilshaw, Scotland

* Merthyr Tydfil, Wales

Five least affordable places

* Gerrards Cross, South-east England

* Kensington and Chelsea, London

* Weybridge, South-east England

* Sevenoaks, South-east England

* Westminster, London

Proportion of towns (by region) in which average home is unaffordable for teachers

North 37%

Yorks 58%

North-west 58%

East Midlands 84%

West Midlands 78%

East Anglia 100%

South-west 100%

South-east 99%

Greater London 100%

Wales 52%

Scotland 46%

Great Britain 78%

Source: Halifax

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