to let sign
Buy-to-let investors are hoovering up property from the UK housing market, which has a dearth in supply of homes Getty

There has been a rapid acceleration in buy-to-let mortgage lending as investors hoover up an increasing amount of the UK's insufficient supply of housing.

According to the Council of Mortgage Lenders (CML), buy-to-let lending hit £2.4bn (€3bn, $3.9bn) in July 2014, a 26% leap over the year and a 9% rise on June. In volume terms, there were 17,500 an annual increase of 18% and a monthly one of 12%.

House prices are rising sharply off the back of intense demand and a seriously constrained supply of homes - with house building running at around half the level needed - tempting investors in to try and cash in on the lucrative gains from property values and rents.

Data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) shows the average UK house prices leapt 10.2% over the year to June 2014, hitting £265,000. In some areas this increase has been even sharper. London recorded a leap of 19.3% to an average price of £499,000.

Critics of the buy-to-let industry accuse it of not just exploiting the country's housing crisis, but making it worse by taking homes that could have been bought by first time buyers off the market.

But defenders say they are meeting the needs of the private rental market by increasing the number of properties available to let.

The CML data also showed a sharp increase in first time buyer lending. There were 30,200 first-time buyer loans in July - 3% more than in June, and 25% up on July 2013. The value was £4.6bn, 10% up on June and 39% higher over the year.

First time buyers have been supported by the recovering economy, low interest rates and schemes such as Help to Buy which making getting a mortgage cheaper and easier.

"The market has shown steady growth in house purchase and buy-to-let over the past few months with general improvements in economic factors across the UK allowing for more people to enter the property market," said Paul Smee, director general of the CML.

"There have been many factors over the past year that could have caused disruption but the market has remained resilient and lenders have shown themselves adaptable to all this change."

Policymakers have moved to tighten mortgage lending over concerns that some borrowers are taking on excessive mortgages while rates are held down by the Bank of England and house prices jump.

The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has imposed stricter affordability tests on borrowers, while the Bank of England is capping high loan-to-income mortgage lending.