Help to Buy case study controversy

Downing Street has defended its decision to promote its controversial Help to Buy scheme using a BMW-driving estate agent who has benefited from the new Government support.

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The Prime Minister visits Sharon Ray at her home bought through the Help to Buy scheme

Downing Street has defended its decision to promote its controversial Help to Buy scheme using a BMW-driving estate agent who has benefited from the new Government support.

Last week, David Cameron visited the home of Sharon Ray, in Southampton, Hampshire, which she has bought with the assistance of Help to Buy.

During the visit, Ms Ray, 30, was interviewed by the BBC about the benefits of the scheme.

It has since emerged that Ms Ray, who has a two-year-old daughter called Maisie, is a successful sales director for Enfields estate agents, which also marketed the two-bedroom ground-floor apartment which was advertised for £144,950.

An anonymous blogger, called nickd, revealed that Ms Ray goes by her professional name of Sharon O'Donnell and that in September she tweeted that she was getting a new BMW convertible car.

She is referred to on the Enfields website as a sales director.

It states: "Sharon won the Enfields' Negotiator of the Year Award for three years in succession from 2009 to 2011 and justifiably so. Originally from the New Forest and with a Business Management degree from Southampton Solent University, Sharon made a remarkable impact on Enfields when she joined us in 2007 and has continued to lead, motivate and inspire her sales team with outstanding success ever since."

Her profile on Linkedin states that she has been a sales manager for Enfields since May 2006 before which she was a senior sales negotiator at another estate agents.

Ms Ray, who has since blocked her tweets to public access, is reported to have responded to controversy over her involvement in Help to Buy by posting: "I've done nothing wrong, I work 39 hrs a week, everything I hve I have worked very hard 4. When was it a crime to work hard?"

She has also stated that the BMW was a company car.

A Downing Street spokesman defended its use of Ms Ray as a "case study" saying that she met the criteria of the Help to Buy scheme which could be used to purchase properties worth up to £600,000.

He said: "The BBC report made clear she was an estate agent and there is no suggestion this information was withheld.

"She is a hard-working person, she could afford the repayments but not the initial deposit so she met the criteria for the Help to Buy scheme.

"There are no rules on the careers of recipients so we say she is an appropriate recipient as are many hundreds of people who have benefited from the scheme.

"There are all sorts of people from different backgrounds (who have benefited) - that was just one case study."

More than 6,000 people have put offers in on homes and applied for mortgages using Help to Buy since it was launched about three months ago.

Nearly 750 homeowners have completed their purchases and hundreds were able to spend Christmas in their new homes, according to the Government.

After his visit to Southampton, Mr Cameron tweeted: "Sharon & Maisie show me their lovely new home - just one of the families helped onto the housing ladder by HelpToBuy"

Ms Ray also posted: "David Cameron so lovely to meet you today!!! Maisie and I had a great time!!!!! "

Mr Cameron said last week that the initiative meant people without wealthy parents and a big deposit could "realise their dream" of owning a home, and he rejected concerns that high demand was already overheating the market.

"This is about helping people to achieve the security and stability they want of owning a flat or a home of their own.

"We are not helping people to buy flats or homes they cannot afford.

"We are helping people who do not have wealthy parents, who cannot get a big deposit together, and helping them to realise their dreams."

Ms Ray was unavailable for comment.