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Harvey Aberdein: Time to rally together

Harvey Aberdein, Aberdein Considene
Harvey Aberdein, Aberdein Considene

The floods and severe weather which left large parts of Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire under water were as shocking as they were unexpected.

Many have had their businesses and homes destroyed at a time of year when families are usually relaxing together.

However, amid the ferocious storm – which could cost upwards of £1billion to clear up – there was some light.

It was extremely heartening to see communities are rallying round to help each other. Aberdein Considine played a very small part, sending our Property Maintenance teams and their vans to affected communities to help with the clear-up.

Hotels offered beds, storage firms offered to hold what remained of some people’s possessions and countless generous residents offered food, shelter and comfort to those hit hardest.

A crisis can bring out the best in people – and I have always found that to be particularly true of the people who live in the north-east of Scotland.

We are going to need this spirit by the bucket as the region now braces itself for what could be an economic storm.

Jobs continue to go in the oil and gas sector amid predictions that crude prices could now fall to as little as $20 a barrel.

Therefore it is likely to be a challenging year for many businesses.

I think it is important that business owners show some of the same spirit which has been abundant in towns like Ballater and Inverurie – rally together, collaborate and, most importantly, look after people.

The taking hand of Osborne swipes again

There was a time when having a £1million pension pot to retire on was the stuff of dreams – but it’s more common than you may think, particularly in Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire.

This has made these pots a ripe target for Chancellor George Osborne, who is looking for more money from you in the coming weeks.

From April, the maximum size of total pension assets allowed without incurring a tax charge will drop from £1.25million to £1million, the third cut since Osborne became chancellor in 2010.

Any savings above this new £1million level will be subject to tax of up to 55% as you begin drawing down.

The people most likely to be hit by this change are people in their 30s who pay around £1,000 per month into their pension (including their employer’s contribution and tax relief).

My independent financial advisers at Aberdein Considine are predicting that up to 450,000 people in the UK could eventually lose out.

Mr Osborne is not renowned for fairness, but I feel this is particularly unjust.

Prudent savers – especially those who are putting more away because of the steady erosion of the state pension – should not be used as a piggy bank by our politicians.

Buy-to-Let rush
The financially prudent (landlords this time) are also being targeted by politicians at Holyrood.

As expected, Scotland’s Finance Secretary John Swinney followed the UK Chancellor’s lead and announced that from April 2016 a 3% surcharge would be added to the purchase price of properties intended for letting or for second homes. This is to be added to the existing Land and Buildings Transaction Tax (LBTT).

The introduction of the supplement ends a year where private sector landlords have seen their right to claim tax relief worth 40% of interest payments and the 10% wear and tear allowance removed.

Immediately prior to the Finance Secretary’s announcement Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England (BoE), warned he was concerned at the amount of people taking mortgages to invest in property.

The fear from those who work in the industry is that the combination of these changes will affect the business viability of the private rented sector in Scotland. As a result we may see landlords leave the sector, or be forced to increase rents to cover their additional costs.

Ultimately it may therefore be those vulnerable tenants, who the Finance Secretary claims to be trying to help, that suffer most as the availability of affordable accommodation reduces.

The changes which will be introduced from April 2016 may lead to an increase of buy-to let-purchases before the end of March in an attempt by landlords to beat the deadline.

However, if landlords decide that they can no longer invest in the sector in the short term it may mean a reduction of available properties, thus exacerbating demand and fuelling rental increases.

Clearly, more thought needs to be given to the impact these changes are going to have.