Right To Buy Has Ended

On the 1 August 2016 the Right to Buy, which allows tenants in social housing to buy their homes came to an end in Scotland. Tenants with a right to buy had until the 31 July 2016 to submit an application.

The Right to Buy in Scotland was established by the Tenants’ Rights Etc. (Scotland) Act 1980. Subsequent legislation by the UK Parliament and indeed the Scottish Parliament made various amendments to the terms under which tenants could exercise the Right to Buy.

Between the years 1979/1980 and 2014/2015 a total of 494,580 council and housing association homes were apparently sold under Right to Buy in Scotland-homes no longer available for social renting.

The Scottish Parliament’s Housing (Scotland) Act 2014 brought the Right to Buy to an end. Commenting on this Graeme Brown, director of Shelter Scotland said:

“It is good news that right-to-buy has finally had its day in Scotland. It has no place in Scotland’s housing system today.”

“More than half a million social homes were sold off under right-to-buy in Scotland. For every three homes sold only one was built in replacement-so no wonder we have a housing crisis in Scotland.”

“Now that right – to- buy is consigned to history- and with a waiting list of 150,000 for a council house-what Scotland desperately needs now is a step change in the delivery of affordable housing. We need to build at least 12,000 new affordable homes a year to meaningfully tackle Scotland’s housing crisis. We also need a new national homelessness strategy to get to grips with the root causes of homelessness.”

“Only with these progressive changes will we start to address the profound damage caused to our housing system by policies like right-to-buy and the decades of underinvestment in affordable housing.”

Wales looks set to follow Scotland’s example with the Welsh Assembly expected to introduce legislation on this issue within the next 12 months.

The situation in England is however different. UK government figures show that more than 52,500 people have purchased their home through Right to Buy since the scheme was reinvigorated in 2012 which amounts to 1000 households a month.

If you are looking to buy or sell property in Scotland then please contact Alison Gourley on 0141 552 3422 or by email ajg@mitchells-roberton.co.uk

‘Traditional Methods’ are often the Best for Homebuyers

Today there are many apps and websites in existence to help homebuyers find their dream home but many people still find that the more ‘traditional’ methods are the best.

Which? questioned 2000 purchasers about how they found their property . 55% said they found it through a ‘traditional’ method like an estate agent, their local paper or an auction with 45% saying that they  found their property online or through an electronic alert such as a notification from an app.

Looking at the findings in more detail, they showed that:

  • 22% of first-time buyers found their new home through an estate agent
  • 10% found their property after seeing a For Sale sign outside
  • 9% found their property by word of mouth
  • 6% found their property in their local newspaper
  • 3% found their property by approaching the owner directly or by leafleting the area
  • 1% bought their property at a property auction.

“Despite the rise in online property portals, it seems many of us are still traditionalists when it comes to finding a property” said David Blake principal adviser at Which? Mortgage Advisers.

If you are looking to buy a new home and would like to talk to a property expert then please contact Alison Gourley on 0141 552 3422 or by email ajg@mitchells-roberton.co.uk

Also please note that we are members of GSPC and have an estate agency service within the firm. If we can help in the selling of your home please contact Bridie Gillan on 0141 552 3422 or by email bg@mitchells-roberton.co.uk

Family Law –Some Urban Myths

I have been practising family law for quite some time now and over the years it never fails to surprise me that many people still hold strongly to a number of misconceptions about family law in Scotland.

The woman will automatically get custody of the children- NO

In Scotland, the Children (Scotland) Act 1995 replaced the words “custody” or “access” with the words “residence” and “contact”. Basically when parents separate there is no legal requirement to have any orders granted in relation to children unless there is genuine dispute in which case a Sheriff or Judge will decide on the basis of what is in the best interest of the child. If it is considered that it is better for a child to stay with his/her father then residence will be awarded to the father.

Child maintenance stops when a child becomes 16- NO

A parent’s responsibility to financially maintain a child lasts until that child is 25 years of age if the child is still in full time education or vocational training. The duty is owed by both parents towards the child, so that a child over the age of 16 who is at college can seek maintenance from both parents. Normally when a child of separated parents lives at home, one parent fulfils the obligation to aliment by providing bed and board whilst the other parent pays child maintenance.

If a divorce is your fault you will be punished for that financially-NO

In Scotland the only ground of divorce is the irretrievable break-down of marriage. The breakdown may be proved in a number of ways, for example non-cohabitation for a period in excess of two years or one year if your spouse consents, or unreasonable behaviour on the part of the other spouse or adultery. A spouse’s behaviour even if unreasonable has no relevance to a financial settlement unless it can be shown that the behaviour has impacted adversely on the couple’s finances, such as a serious gambling habit.

A pension is not matrimonial property-NO

A pension has a monetary value and is counted as part of a married couple’s matrimonial property in the same way as money in the bank is treated as matrimonial property. The pension has a value based on how much is held within the fund at the date of separation. A pension can be divided on divorce by way of a pension sharing order and if such an order is implemented a portion of one spouse’s pension is removed from his or her pension fund and placed in a pension fund nominated by the other spouse. The sums are not paid out until retirement. Alternatively the value of the pension can be offset against another aspect of the matrimonial property, for example, the former matrimonial home so that one spouse receives less from the house because they have a larger pension.

My husband and I separated a couple of years ago – he has now inherited a large sum from his late father and I want half- NO

Money inherited or gifted from a third party is not matrimonial property. In addition any money or assets accumulated by a spouse after the date that the parties separated is not matrimonial property. You are therefore not entitled to any of your father in law’s estate.  Money that is inherited or gifted can be converted into matrimonial property if received during a marriage and for instance is used to buy a family car. In that event, upon divorce the money is not automatically reimbursed but account of the source of the funds can be taken account of, when negotiating how a couple’s assets are to be divided.

Unmarried couples have pretty much the same rights as married couples – NO

While many income related benefits and tax credits may not take account of the married status of a couple, this does not mean that cohabiting couples have the same rights as married couples on the breakdown of their relationship. The Family Law (Scotland) Act 2006 did bring in a number of changes to the law of cohabiting couples including rights to make a financial claim against your former partner if you can show that you have suffered economic disadvantage in the interests of the family. This is not the same as being able to claim a share of matrimonial property acquired during the period of the marriage. In addition it is only a capital sum that can be claimed and not maintenance, unlike married couples. On death the differences are also substantial. Married couples have an automatic right to inherit certain parts of their spouse’s estate on death, irrespective of whether there is a will or not. In the case of a cohabiting couple however, there is no automatic right and if there is a will which does not mention the surviving partner then they have no right to inherit at all. If there is no will, the surviving partner can make a claim against the estate of their deceased partner but must raise a court action to do so.

If you need advice on any family law matters I can help. Please contact me Fiona Wayman on 0141-552-3422 or by email fhw@mitchells-roberton.co.uk

New Regulations Introduced Making Commercial Property Owners Improve Energy Efficiency of their Buildings

The Assessment of Energy Performance of Non-domestic Buildings (Scotland) Regulations 2016 came into effect on 1 September 2016 making it the responsibility of owners of commercial property to improve the energy efficiency of their buildings on either a sale or the grant of a lease to a new tenant.

The owner of a property which is affected is required to provide any prospective purchaser or tenant with an action plan free of charge. The action plan will be prepared by an adviser as defined in section 63 of the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009 who undertakes the assessment of the energy performance of the building using the data from the Energy Performance Certificate.

The action plan should set out any identifiable ways to reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions from the building and set out energy improvement aims. The Regulations point to certain potential improvement measures namely:

  • Installing draught stripping to doors and windows
  • Upgrading heating controls
  • Upgrading lighting controls
  • Upgrading low energy lighting
  • Installing an insulation jacket to a hot water tank
  • Installation of insulation in an accessible roof space
  • Replacement of a boiler

These improvement measures only need to be carried out if the energy savings over a 7 year period are more than the cost of the works.  These works need to be carried out within 3.5 years from the date of issue of the action plan.

Alternatively an owner can make arrangements to measure, report and display operational ratings of the building annually.  If an owner chooses this route they must obtain and exhibit a Display Energy Certificate (DEC) in a prominent place in the building and renew it every year.

The Regulations apply to existing non-domestic buildings with a floor area of over 1000 square metres and also units within non domestic buildings that are designed or altered to be used separately with a floor area of over 1000 square metres. There are a few exemptions, however, for example properties that have been improved under the Green Deal, temporary buildings and workshops, buildings that comply with the 2002 Building Standard and non-residential agricultural buildings with low energy demand. No action plan is needed   for the renewal of a lease to the same tenant or where the lease is for less than 16 weeks or where the sale or lease takes place before construction has been completed.

The action plan, DEC and the document of confirmation of improvement must all be registered in the Scottish EPC Register.  The Local Authority can fine an owner £1000 for failure to follow the regulations.

If you are a commercial landlord and need advice on these new regulations please contact Ross Leatham on 0141 552 3422 or by email rjl@mitchells-roberton.co.uk

Over 50s plan an average of £51,000 pension giveaway

Saga Investment Services between 24th and 25th June 2016, with the help of Populus, a member of the British Polling Council, carried out a survey of over 50s who hold a private ‘defined contribution’ pension and  are currently using flexible drawdown with their savings.  The findings were based on a sample of 1915 people of which 865 were over 50.

What was revealed is that a growing number of over-50s, in fact 1 in 4, are planning to leave some of their pension behind to loved ones.  The average pension gift is set at around £51,000.

Under the pension freedoms introduced in April 2015, new tax rules were applied to any remaining savings left in someone’s pension after they died.

For someone dying under the age of 75 the following tax rules apply:

  • A pension can be inherited tax free by an heir as a lump sum
  • A pension can be received in drawdown, or an annuity can be bought, with the income paid from either tax free
  • A lump sum must be taken within two years of the death, otherwise the payment is subject to income tax at the inheritor’s personal tax rate.
  • Annuities or drawdown must be taken by the beneficiary from an ‘untouched’ pot (where someone has died and didn’t take any money from their pension) within two years , otherwise the income will be taxed at the beneficiary’s personal tax rate.

For someone dying at or after age 75 the following tax rule applies:

  • Any inherited pension is taxed at the beneficiary’s personal tax rate

Despite the desire to pass on their savings the research shows that there is widespread confusion about how tax rules affect ‘passed on’ pensions. Around 22% believed only their spouse could inherit the funds. Less than 42% knew that remaining pensions could be left to anyone they nominate. The rest did not know who could inherit left over pension savings.

There was also evidence of a lack of understanding on the taxation of inherited wealth. Only 18% were aware that no tax would be payable on inherited savings if the pension owner died under the age of 75. Saga also found a similar picture relating to those dying over the age of 75 with only 19% knowing that the tax paid would depend on the beneficiary’s personal income tax rate.

Gareth Shaw of Saga Investment Services commented as follows:

“Thanks to the changes made in April last year, pensions have become a far more attractive way to pass on your wealth and bypass Inheritance Tax (IHT). Typically, pension savings are ringfenced from IHT, and therefore people could inherit significant sums either paying a lower amount of tax or no tax at all, depending on their income and the amount they inherit.

If anyone is thinking of passing on their pension, it’s important that they complete an ‘expression of wish’ form with their pension provider and nominate who they want their pension to go to.

However there is a balance to be had here-the desire to pass on money from a pension should not overpower the need to have financial comfort in retirement. With any inheritance tax planning, be it pensions or other assets, professional advice will be essential to help consumers get that balance right.”

If we can help with any IHT planning enquiries please contact Bruce Battersby on 0141 552 3422 or by email Bruce@mitchells-roberton.co.uk

Employee dismissed for failure to wash hands-harsh but not unfair?

A bakery employee from the Welsh valleys was dismissed after a hand hygiene “lapse” during a night shift. Following the employee’s claim for unfair dismissal, the Tribunal ruled that the dismissal was fair.

Sion Donovan, who was employed by Greggs for 11 years, went to fetch equipment from the locker room at a bakery in Treforest, Pontypridd but then failed to wash his hands on returning to the food processing area.

Mr Donovan at an employment tribunal admitted the transgression but felt that the reaction of Greggs was disproportionate. He said that he had been so focused on his next job that he had forgotten to wash his hands. “It was a lapse” he said “Hand washing is routine- part of being a food handler and something I took very seriously.”Greggs’ company policy states that all employees should carry out a hand wash every time they return to a food processing area. Greggs maintained their decision to dismiss was reasonable because of its zero tolerance approach to breaches of its hygiene rules. Greggs’ bakery manager Dale Humphries said “There’s a risk that they (the employee) might take bacteria or pathogens into the bakery  and cause food illness or a poisoning outbreak” and the breach of the company’s rules may have been “potentially lethal”.

Under the Employment Rights Act 1996, where an employee with an appropriate qualifying service is dismissed the dismissal will be unfair unless:

  • The employer shows that the dismissal was for a potentially fair reason and
  • In all the circumstances the employer acted reasonably in treating that reason as a sufficient reason for dismissal.

The test as to whether the employer acted reasonably is an objective one with the tribunal having to decide whether the employer’s decision to dismiss the employee fell within the range of “reasonable responses”, in other words would a reasonable employer in those circumstances and in that business have come to the same conclusion.

The tribunal found that the dismissal was fair and that Greggs acted within the range of “reasonable responses”. It was accepted that the employer’s principal reason for dismissal was that Mr Donovan  could not be trusted to follow hand-washing rules and that he posed a risk to Greggs’ customers and reputation.

The decision may seem harsh especially given Mr Donovan’s length of service but the tribunal did not find it unfair.

If you have an employment Law query Hugh Grant our employment law specialist is here to help. Please contact him on 0141 552 3422 or by email hjg@mitchells-roberton.co.uk

“Project” Properties can be Popular with Homebuyers

Here at Mitchells Roberton we have a busy private client department and an active estate agency and we are used to selling a number of properties which form part of a deceased person’s estate or are being sold by a financial guardian of an adult with incapacity. Some of these properties may require a lot of renovation but frequently sell very easily. Accordingly,  recent research carried out by Zoopla, showing that over 70% of prospective homeowners in Britain would prefer to buy a property in need of work rather than a home that is already in walk-in condition, does not surprise me. Homebuyers apparently are prepared to spend an average of £16,765 to bring their “project” property up to the required standard.

The scale of work that people are prepared to take on varies, with around 33% of people surveyed saying they would take on major repairs, including structural work and around 20% saying they would do the bulk of the work themselves without  calling in tradesmen. On a smaller scale the types of DIY jobs people are happiest to tackle are decorating, replacing flooring and landscaping the garden.

The research also revealed that the biggest motivation on buying a fixer- upper is the resale value. When asked what alterations they believed would add the most value 17% of the respondents said installing a new kitchen, 15% said installing a new bathroom and 13% said extending the property to include a loft or conservatory.

Research by Halifax Home Insurance, however, found that some homebuyers are unprepared for the reality of taking on a “project” property.  Property Wire have also carried out a survey and found that 27% of people who had taken on a DIY job did not do the work properly and 34% just gave up before they had finished. It also found that DIY skills amongst 18-24 year olds were continuing to fall. Only 62% expressed confidence in their ability to change a lightbulb! Now I can do that but there again I am over 24.

If you are looking to buy a new home in Scotland of whatever type then please contact  me Alison Gourley on 0141 552 3422 or by email ajg@mitchells-roberton.co.uk