The government has approved a £400m funding package for the Homes and Communities Agency to help first time buyers buy their own home as part of the plan to tackle the economic downturn.

Housing minister Margaret Beckett said the funding boost would be channelled through its HomeBuy Direct scheme and up to 18,000 homes could be developed by 130 approved developers in England.

Under the scheme a first-time buyer, whose household income is under £60,000, could purchase a house worth £180,000 for around £126,000 .

Eligible first time buyers will be able to apply for the scheme from early 2009 by contacting a HomeBuy agent in their region.

Beckett said: ‘We are determined to give families real help in the current economic climate.

'For many young families who aspire to own a home, the difficulties in the housing market have made the step on to the property ladder that bit harder.

'This deal will give them more support and put their dream of becoming home owners within reach. At the same time, this scheme will also help developers to weather the tough times in the market, by protecting jobs and helping to keep business going.’

‘HomeBuy Direct is one of a range of schemes designed to help families to get a foot on the housing ladder.

'We have already helped more than 110,000 people buy their own homes through shared equity and shared ownership since 1997.

'The Government is investing £8bn over 3 years (2008-11) for the provision of new affordable housing for both social rent and low cost home ownership.’