The Bank of England (BoE) reported today that mortgage approvals rose to a two-year high in January this year, heralding a possible increase in house sales across the UK. The BoE said that the number of new mortgages that were approved if not yet actually lent out stood at 58,728 by the end of January, a 7 per cent increase compared to the previous month, and 30 per cent higher than the same month in 2011. The Bank stressed that this was the highest figure for mortgage approvals since December 2009, and suggested that part of the increase could have been down to potential homeowners striving to get their mortgage approved before the end of the governments stamp duty holiday on 24 March. On that date, the 1 per cent rate of stamp duty for first-time mortgages will be reinstated on properties valued at between Â£125,000 and Â£250,000. Building Societies Association director-general Adrian Coles told the BBC that new lending and approvals for house purchase picked up across the market in January, perhaps in part due to first-time buyers taking advantage of the stamp duty holiday before it ends in March.” The Council of Mortgage Lenders (CML) added: “We are now likely to see an unhelpful bunching of activity prior to the concession’s expiry, followed by a dip.” Despite the encouraging signs, however, mortgage lenders are still urging caution because mortgage approvals are still at around half the level that pertained at the peak of the housing boom in 2006-7 that was cut short by the credit crunch of 2008. Furthermore, lending conditions remain tough. Criteria for borrowers are much higher than before the credit crunch, and there are very few mortgages available at more than 80 per cent loan-to-value.