The share of first-time buyers in the housing market has dwindled to its lowest point in nearly three years, estate agents have said, prompting calls for the Government to do more to lift the "lending barrier" preventing people getting onto the property ladder.
The National Association of Estate Agents' (NAEA) market report for October found that 16% of overall sales last month went to first-time buyers, shrinking back from 22% in September.
This is the biggest slump recorded by the NAEA in nearly three years, with December 2008 being the last time agents reported such a low figure, when first-time buyers made up just 10% of the market.
On Monday, the Government outlined plans to inject life back into the stagnating housing industry, including underwriting mortgages for first-time buyers. It is hoped the scheme will allow people to purchase newly-built homes with deposits of around 5% rather than the 20% regularly demanded by lenders.
But the NAEA, which represents estate agents across the UK, said the Government should go further by extending its plans beyond new-build homes as well as giving lenders clearer incentives to lend cash to first-time buyers.
NAEA president Wendy Evans-Scott said: "This week's housing strategy announcement from the Government is welcome news for first-time buyers.
"But our latest figures show that despite reported increases in mortgage approvals by the larger UK banks over the course of 2011, there is still a lending barrier facing those entering the housing market for the first time.
"To address this, government could ensure that banks are given clearer incentives to offer mortgage finance to the UK's embattled first-time buyers, and also extend the mortgage guarantee for first-time buyers announced this week beyond just new-build homes."
The NAEA report also found the number of house-hunters registering at branches also dropped off slightly as winter approaches, with 305 per branch in October compared with 308 in September, but the figure was higher than this time last year.
The number of sales and supply levels in October remained the same month-on-month, with an average of eight sales and 72 houses available per branch.