UK mortgage lending picked up in January compared with the same month a year earlier, lenders' figures show.

However, the usual seasonal fall meant lending was down on December, the Council of Mortgage Lenders (CML) said.

Gross mortgage lending stood at £10.5bn in January, down 12% on December but up 10% on January 2011.

This was the sixth month in a row of higher year-on-year lending, the CML said, but it warned that this was from very low levels of activity.

"The recent improvement in housing and mortgage market sentiment is welcome," said CML chief economist Bob Pannell.

"But we should be careful not to overstate its significance, given the very low levels of activity we are starting from and the protracted and difficult economic rebalancing that the UK and other countries have embarked upon."

Some of the extra activity could be the result of first-time buyers trying to get onto the housing ladder before the stamp-duty concession ended, Mr Pannell added.

The 1% stamp duty rate for first-time buyers, on properties worth between £125,000 and £250,000, is being reintroduced on 24 March.

Last week, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors reported that its members expected sales of homes in England and Wales to rise in the final weeks of a stamp duty holiday.

Meanwhile, the CML said that the falling inflation rate, were it to continue, would reduce the squeeze on household finances and assist activity in the housing market in the future.

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