British housebuilder Persimmon said it had made a good start to 2012 with both visitor levels and orders up on last year, boosted in part by a new government mortgage scheme.

The group, which in February cheered shareholders with a promise to return 1.9 billion pounds of surplus cash to them over the next decade, said visitor levels to its sites over the first 15 weeks of 2012 were up 10 percent on last year.

Britain's largest housebuilder by market value said its order book rose 9 percent to 1.24 billion pounds in the same period, as margins also rose.

The NewBuy scheme - which allows lenders to provide 95 percent mortgages on new build properties with guarantees from the government and developers - boosted enquiries from potential buyers, Persimmon said.

Britons have taken a hammering from a combination of government austerity measures aimed at cutting the budget deficit, prices rising faster than wages, and the relatively high cost of credit from banks compared to previous years.

However, a recent survey showed that British house prices declined at the slowest pace since June 2010 in March after a gentle increase in activity across the market so far this year.

Whilst the availability of mortgage credit remains the key constraint on the UK housing market, we remain confident that Persimmon can operate successfully within existing market conditions, the group said in a statement on Thursday.

Shares in Persimmon closed at 635 pence on Wednesday, valuing the business at around 1.9 billion pounds.

(Reporting by Neil Maidment; Editing by Rosalba O'Brien)