LONDON More than 2,000 homebuyers obtained mortgages through the British government's flagship loan support scheme in the first month of its broader operation, with most of those first-time buyers, Prime Minister David Cameron said on Monday.
Britain's Conservative government is pushing the plan, with a 2015 election in mind, as a way to help people move onto, or up, the property ladder, and stimulate growth after three years of economic stagnation.
But critics say that unless the scheme is properly scrutinised it could drive up house prices in sought-after areas like London and create a housing bubble that might burst when interest rates start to rise later this decade.
The figures given by Cameron for the first month in which the scheme has operated for both new build and existing homes compared to the almost 67,000 mortgages approved overall in Britain in September - the highest since 2008.
Most applicants for the government scheme were young, had a roughly average household income and were buying their first home, Cameron said in a statement, arguing the programme was central to his vision for Britain.
"Owning a home is about more than four walls to sleep at night. It's about independence, self-reliance, moving on and moving up," Cameron said.
"Above all, it's about aspiration. Help to Buy is helping people realise the dream of home ownership - and it's a key part of my plan for Britain."
A total of 2,384 applications had been received from the two participating banks, largely nationalised RBS and partially state-owned Halifax Bank of Scotland.
RBS, which owns NatWest, said 73 percent of its 1,080 mortgages through the scheme were for first-time buyers.
If all of the applications are finally approved, the bank will be lending 171.6 million pounds ($274.5 million) under the programme.
It said the average amount its customers wanted to borrow was 159,000 pounds and the average price of the home they wanted to buy was 167,565 pounds.
"These are majority young first-time buyers who, without 'Help to Buy', wouldn't have been able to consider a mortgage or buy a home," said Lloyd Cochrane, head of mortgages at NatWest and RBS.
Halifax, owned by RBS's part-nationalised rival Lloyds Banking Group, said it had received 1,309 mortgage applications from home buyers across the UK who have found a property to purchase.
Halifax said the applications were for mortgages worth a total of 194 million pounds.
RBS is allowing customers to draw down the funds before the scheme officially launches in January and said 5 customers had already purchased new homes through the scheme.
(Reporting By Costas Pitas and Matt Scuffham; editing by Patrick Graham)