House prices are reaching the limits of affordability for many first-time buyersReuters

House price growth accelerated in the three months to the end of January 2016, said Halifax, but an affordability crunch hovers on the horizon. In its monthly house price index, Halifax said prices are 2.2% higher in the UK than the previous three months. The average is now £212,430 ($311.029), up 9.7% over the year. These growth rates are up on the preceding quarter from 2% and 9.5% respectively.

"The imbalance between supply and demand continues to exert significant upward pressure on house prices," said Martin Ellis, housing economist at Halifax. "This situation looks set to persist over the coming months. Further ahead, increasing affordability issues, as price increases continue to exceed wage growth, are likely to curb housing demand and cause price growth to ease."

Housebuilding is running at around half the level needed to meet demand. There were 34,250 housing starts in the three months to the end of September, according to government figures, down 2% on the same period a year before. And the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (Rics) reported in January the lowest stock of homes for sale on record.

Annual pay growth is around 2%, says the Office for National Statistics (ONS), far slower than house price rises. In a separate report, Halifax said the average deposit first-time buyers now need to save is £33,000, 88% higher than 2007 as the financial crisis emerged. Affordability is a problem that has worsened over the long term alongside a growing population and insufficient housebuilding.

Nationwide data shows the average earnings-to-house price ratio for first-time buyers soaring across the past two decades. In the final quarter of 1995, the ratio was 2.1 times earnings. In the final quarter of 2015, this had reached 5.2 times. On a regional basis, this increase has been sharpest in London, where house prices have risen far quicker and higher than elsewhere in the UK. In the final quarter of 1995, London's ratio was an average house price 2.7 times earnings for first-time buyers. By the end of 2015 this had become 10.1 times.

The government has a number of policies to help first-time buyers on to the property ladder. It aims to build 200,000 new "starter homes" which will be sold at a discount to first-time buyers. And its Help to Buy scheme, which offers a number of support options for home buyers, including an interest-free loan from the government, a savings account topped up with public money, and a mortgage guarantee from the Treasury, has been in place since 2013.