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Last Updated: Wednesday, 16 March, 2005, 07:41 GMT
Budget 'good for NI housebuyers'
Gordon Brown
Mr Brown is expected to help first-time home buyers
Budget hints over stamp duty may mean good news for Northern Ireland housebuyers.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown will deliver his ninth budget speech later on Wednesday.

However, any plans for a major pre-election giveaway are likely to be held back by strains on the public finances.

BBC Northern Ireland business editor James Kerr said there would no "spending splurge".

"The thing that has been very heavily trawled is the move in stamp duty from 60,000 to 100,000 which would be of some significance locally because a lot of houses fall into that category," he said.

"That would be good news for first time buyers."

However, he said Mr Brown was in danger of breaking his self-imposed rules on financial prudence.

"If he were to that he would badly undermine his credibility.

"With his eye still on the prime minister's job, that could be a disaster - and hefty post election tax rises would win him no friends.

"As always, there has been a lot of speculation about exactly what he may do. A rise in petrol duty may well be held back and there may be a little more help for pensioners."

Mr Brown is expected to stress the importance of continued economic stability, with low unemployment and interest rates.

Brown's reputation

Treasury officials have ruled out a pre-election giveaway but Mr Brown is thought to have about 2bn to spare.

First-time buyers are at a 20-year low, which has potentially serious consequences for the housing market and the wider economy.

Ten years ago, buyers had a much greater chance of avoiding stamp duty, with close to half a million properties, in England and Wales alone, selling for less than 60,000.

Since then, average UK property prices have more than doubled while the starting threshold for stamp duty has not increased.

As a result, the number of properties incurring stamp duty has rocketed as has the government's tax take.

What Britain can expect from Budget 2005

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