THE stark impact of the plummeting oil price on the economy in the north east of Scotland has been revealed by new research showing soaring numbers claiming benefits and a drop in house sales and planning applications.

The number of people receiving jobseekers' allowance almost doubled in Aberdeenshire last year (a 92 per cent rise), while the claimant count in the city of Aberdeen increased by 69 per cent. Despite the increase, the rate for both areas remains below the Scottish average.

At the same time, the number of property sales fell by up to seven per cent, while planning applications in 2015 were down by 20 per cent on the year before.

The study by the Scottish Parliament Information Centre comes as separate figures from house market analysts Hometrack found that Aberdeen is the only city in the UK to have seen prices fall during the past 12 months.

But Faisal Choudhry, director of Scottish research at estate agent Savills, said that while the housing market in the north east was facing turbulent times, not everyone was losing out.

He said: "We predicted this would be the case in our research last year. The market is adjusting to the activity in the local economy.

"But we must remember that this comes after seven years of phenomenal growth in house prices, so prices are still well above the Scottish average.

"We are beginning to see price reductions, but that opens up opportunities for people who may have been priced out of the market before."

He added: "If you have job security, it is quite a good time to buy a home as the prices are being adjusted down the way in your favour."

Meanwhile, the hotel room occupancy rate in Aberdeen fell to 51.6 per cent, marking the 15th consecutive month of year-on-year occupancy losses.

Researchers also looked at figures from the Committee of Scottish Bankers on the number of new businesses setting up bank accounts.

The number of start-ups in Aberdeen fell by 12 per cent between the third quarter of 2014 and the same period in 2015, while in Aberdeenshire there was a reduction of 8 per cent.

The decrease compares to a Scotland-wide rise of 10 per cent over the period.

Oil industry expert Professor Alex Kemp, of the University of Aberdeen, said that the report pained a fair picture of the economy in the north east, although he took issue with using a percentage rise in the claimant count when discussing unemployment.

He said: "While there was been a steep rise, it must be remembered that the level of unemployment in Aberdeen is still very low compared to elsewhere.

"And many of those in the oil industry who have lost their jobs will not have signed on, but will have gone to find other work elsewhere."

He added: "But individual contractor's rates have certainly been under downward pressure."

Unite regional officer Tommy Campbell said: "It's a snapshot of how intrinsic North Sea oil and gas is to Aberdeen because from business start-ups to hospitality and retail, every aspect of the north-east economy and labour market has been hammered by the oil price slump.

"Initiatives like 'city deals' and retraining programmes for redundant workers are all welcome but unless there is a meaningful intervention from the UK Government to encourage investment in offshore exploration and production, then this will be a prolonged depression and we'll be dealing with the fallout for generations to come."