Uncategorized

STFA backs survey of professional agents’ behaviour

STFA backs survey of professional agents’ behaviour

Scottish Tenant Farmers Association

News Release

 13th September 2016

 

STFA backs survey of professional agents’ behaviour

The Scottish Tenant Farmers Association has welcomed the joint initiative between RICS and the Government’s interim adviser, Andrew Thin, to monitor the conduct of professional agents in rent reviews. The move follows concerns expressed by MSPs during the debate over the Land Reform Bill earlier this year and has the backing of organisations representing both landowners and tenants.

The project is a joint initiative between RICS and the Scottish Government’s Independent Adviser on Tenant Farming (IATF), and follows the issuing in late March of a discussion paper about agent conduct which has been the subject of consultations with key industry bodies.

Over the next 6 – 12 months landlords and tenants involved in rent reviews will be asked a series of questions about their experience where the other party to the review employed an agent to act for them. The aim is to understand and assess how the person on the receiving end of an agent’s negotiating tactics feels about the encounter.

Responses will be analysed with a particular focus on how the conduct of agents employed by landlords is perceived by their tenants, and vice versa where an agent is employed by the tenant. The aim is to identify any aspects of the agent’s behaviour that might be potentially damaging to landlord/tenant relations.

The IATF published a guide to maintaining good relations for landlords, tenants and their agents in June 2016 which emphasised the pivotal role of agents in these relationships, and described four broad criteria which should underpin the behaviour of all three parties.

Commenting on the joint initiative, Chairman Christopher Nicholson said: “For some time now STFA has been convinced that the behaviour of some professional agents has been the root cause of the poor relationships between landlords and tenants. This view was recognised by the Agricultural Holdings Legislation Review Group and the RACCE committee of the Scottish Parliament who both heard first hand evidence from tenants who felt their relationships with their landlords had been damaged by way in which of a minority of land agents had behaved. Generally the situation was worse where an outside firm of land agents had been contracted in to conduct rent reviews.

“STFA fully supports this initiative which will, we hope, herald a new era of mutual self-respect and remove the stress, confrontation and sometimes unwarranted expense which so often accompanies what should be routine business negotiations, such as reviewing the rent. It is heartening to observe that the warnings issued by the Parliament already seem to have been taken on board by professional agents on all sides and the advent of the Interim Adviser on Tenant Farming has helped to resolve some potential disputes.

“STFA would, however, like to see this initiative rolled out to encompass other business dealings between landlords and tenants, such as the proposed amnesty for improvements which may well lead towards areas of disagreement and dispute. The amnesty will probably be one of the most important discussions tenants will ever have with their landlords, affecting not only end of tenancy compensation, but also the level of rent to be paid under the new rent review test based on the productive capacity of the farm. The amnesty will probably be available from the turn of the year and has a 3 year time limit and so it is important that negotiations over agreeing tenants’ improvements are conducted fairly and in a business-like manner.”

 

 

 

STFA calls for the sale of a £25m Highland sporting estate to be put on hold

Scottish Tenant Farmers Association

News Release

23rd August 2016

STFA calls for the sale of a £25m Highland sporting estate to be put on hold

The Scottish Tenant Farmers Association is calling for the sale of a Highland sporting estate to be put on hold until the concerns of tenant farmers who stand to be deprived of their statutory right to buy on the estate can be addressed.

Billed as the most expensive sporting estate ever to be marketed and described as the “ultimate utopia for the passionate sportsman”, the Tulchan Sporting Estate Limited, owned by the Litchfield family, has recently appeared on the market with a price tag of £25m. However, although the glossy brochure extols the superlative advantages of this “sporting and wildlife paradise” it barely mentions the existence of a number of let farms whose tenants will not be able to take advantage of the pre-emptive right to buy enjoyed by tenants on other estates due to a loophole in the legislation.

As far back as 2002, STFA pointed out to the government that if the land being offered for sale was owned by a company, the sellers could legally avoid the tenants’ pre-emptive right to have first refusal over the land even if they had registered their interest in buying the land with Registers of Scotland. Tulchan Estate is owned by a limited company and it is the company which is for sale rather than the land itself, thus avoiding the pre-emptive right to buy.

Commenting on the situation STFA Director, Angus McCall said; “Although this sale is being conducted within the letter of the law it is deeply disappointing that the sellers seem to be ignoring the spirit of the law in Scotland which allows a tenant with a secure tenancy to have the right of make an offer for his farm if the landlord decides to sell. STFA has raised this issue over the years and the recent Agricultural Holdings Review group recommended that this loophole be closed.  To date the Scottish Government has failed to tackle this glaring omission.

“STFA is now calling for the sale of Tulchan Estate to be halted until the plight of the 5 tenants on the estate has been addressed. It is an appalling state of affairs that the Tulchan tenants are being denied a right afforded to other tenants and a say in their future just because of the structure of ownership and a flawed legal technicality.  STFA has raised the issue with the government farm tenancy adviser Andrew Thin in an attempt to delay the proposed sale of Tulchan Estate to allow negotiations to take place between the landlord’s agents and the tenants.

“It is expected that Andrew Thin will be contacting the tenants concerned with a view to brokering discussions about the future of the tenanted farms. It would appear that the selling agents have also expressed a willingness to speak to the tenants and discuss alternative options.  STFA has welcomed these moves but will be keeping a watchful eye on developments and assisting the tenants to reach agreements which will safeguard their future security and the viability of their businesses.

“This whole episode flies in the face of the intention of the Land Reform Act to simplify the pre-emptive right to buy process and make it easier for tenants to buy their land by including provisions which remove the need for tenants to register their interest in land in order to qualify for a right of pre-emption.   STFA will be pressing government to take steps to close this and other legal loopholes but, in the meantime will be recommending that codes of practice be drawn up to ensure that any tenant farmer who is not able to exercise his right to buy through a technicality, either is given the opportunity to offer for his land or at the very least receives suitable recompense and fair treatment if and when his farm is being sold.”

STFA sets out Brexit priorities for Scottish agriculture

STFA sets out Brexit priorities for Scottish agriculture

Scottish Tenant Farmers Association

News Release

13th July 2016

STFA sets out Brexit priorities for Scottish agriculture

 The Scottish Tenant Farmers Association has drafted an initial list of commitments and priorities to be considered by governments as the lengthy and uncertain process of the UK withdrawal from Europe and the Common Agricultural Policy begins.

Commenting on the process, STFA chairman Christopher Nicholson said: ‘Scottish agriculture is currently in a period of poor profitability and the increased uncertainty brought about by Brexit could not have come at a worse time. In contrast to England where only 15% of farm land is classed as Less Favoured, in Scotland 85% is Less Favoured and heavily reliant on support payments under the European Common Agricultural Policy. The most immediate priority for governments is to give some stability to the sector by committing to make the existing support payments to 2020 which farmers have budgeted for, and ensuring a level playing field with Europe for UK farmers with barrier free access to European markets.’

‘Going forward, a new UK wide agricultural policy will need to be developed by the devolved powers of England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales, and it is essential that the new policy is finalised before payments under the current CAP cease. A budget for each devolved power would need to be agreed with the devolved administrations implementing policy that fits their own needs.’

‘Amongst all the uncertainty and changes, there could be a silver lining in that the Scottish Government will have greater flexibility outside of the CAP to target support payments to avoid some of the excesses of the past, in particular to put an end to ‘slipper farming’ and ensure that payments only go to genuinely active farmers. There are elements of the CAP that are cumbersome and have restricted the ability of nation states to implement policy suited to their own needs, and a future policy should be able to provide the freedom to tailor that has been missing under the CAP’

‘With budgets for the CAP replacement policy coming from the UK instead of Europe, the new policy will need to stand up to greater public scrutiny in terms of how it meets the public interest. On-going long term public support is vital for Scottish agriculture, but will only be possible if the policy is seen to provide long term value for the taxpayer.’

Scottish Tenant Farmers Association, Brexit priorities

 Immediate concerns

 Commitment from Government to deliver the next 4 rounds of support payments up to the end of 2020, as planned and budgeted for by farmers. This will provide stability and reduce uncertainty in the short term.

Existing agri-environment contracts must be honoured and the process for those that are open to applications or being processed must continue.

A new agricultural and environmental policy must be in place before existing support schemes are removed. The new replacement policy must provide for UK farmers a level playing field with the rest of Europe and continued barrier free access to European markets for British farm produce.

Priorities for a new agricultural and environmental policy

 A dedicated budget for Scotland from the UK Government

At present the devolved Scottish Government administers the EU CAP budget which is granted by the UK Government. When the UK withdraws from the CAP the UK Government must provide sufficient replacement funding for the devolved Scottish Government to administer according to the needs of Scottish Agriculture.

A consequence of the budget coming from the UK instead of the EU will be greater public scrutiny of how the funds are used, and the need for all aspects of the future policy to meet the public interest. Long term public support for agriculture will only be possible if the policy provides value to the taxpayer.

Targeting of support payments to meet the public interest and give value to the tax payer

Withdrawal from the CAP should allow greater flexibility for Scottish Government to target payments in a manner which avoids the excesses of the past. In particular, support should only go to genuine active farmers, putting an end to ‘slipper farming’. Meeting the public interest may require the capping of payments to individual businesses, and targeted support payments could be used to encourage long term sustainable land tenure arrangements.

Importance of family farms

Family farms have been the resilient backbone of Scottish agriculture for centuries, and have provided not only first class farm produce but also key social and environmental benefits to Scotland’s rural areas. STFA believe that future farming policy should continue to support our current structure of family farms, and that the future policy must be well thought out to avoid the risk of family farms being replaced by extensive systems of agriculture and forestry which would be devastating for rural communities in the more marginal areas.

Access to markets

Future international negotiations on tariffs and market access for the UK’s agricultural produce must provide barrier free markets which will support a strong and competitive farming industry in the UK. Markets for UK farm produce must not be viewed as an expendable negotiating tool in future trade deals.

Delivering environmental outcomes

Agri-environment schemes should be outcome based, with farmers paid for the environmental benefits they provide. In contrast, payments under the current schemes are based on income forgone by the farmer. There are significant environmental benefits farmers can provide, especially with regard to soil management and carbon sequestration.

Farm infrastructure grants

Capped farm infrastructure grants to maintain investment and competitiveness on family farms.

Importance of support for marginal areas

A new uplands / Less Favoured Area scheme suited to Scotland. 85% of Scotland is LFA, in sharp contrast to England which is 85% non-LFA. An appropriate support scheme for marginal areas is vital for Scottish agriculture.

 Avoid the unintended distorting effects of current and past support payments

Areas based support payments both current and past have created a pattern of ever increasing land prices and land rental values which is unhealthy for agriculture, acts as a barrier to new entrants, and is often seen by the public as taxpayers supporting solely landownership rather than food production and management of the environment. Unlimited area based payments have also encouraged a pattern of land tenure driven by short term objectives to maximise payments rather than the objective of maintaining long term sustainable farming practices. Some modern letting agreements now require the tenant to pass all the area based support payments to the landlord, with the tenant having to meet all the obligations and conditions regarding the support system. Such a system of support payments clearly has elements which are not in the public interest and cannot be justified.

 Transparency of supply chain and fair returns

Farmers are typically in weak market position, sandwiched between suppliers and customers who both have monopoly powers in the marketplace. STFA see a clear role for industry ombudsmen to give annual reports on the profitability of the different stages in the food supply chain, ensuring transparency of profits at each stage, with the aim of encouraging a fair division of profits for each stage including the farmer.

Marketing

Continued marketing, promotion, recognition and branding of Scottish food and drink.

Simple and fair regulations

Rules and regulations for access to support schemes should be simple and straightforward, and penalties for breaches should be fair and proportionate.

Research and development

Continuing advisory, research, training and educational functions tailored to Scottish agriculture are vital to ensure the future viability of the sector

 

STFA URGES CAUTION IN END OF TENANCY PLANNING

STFA URGES CAUTION IN END OF TENANCY PLANNING

Scottish Tenant Farmers Association

News Release

 

21st June 2016

STFA URGES CAUTION IN END OF TENANCY PLANNING

The Scottish Tenant Farmers Association (STFA) is urging all tenant farmers to exercise caution and take good independent advice from experts on tenancy law when planning for retirement. When it becomes live, the new Land Reform Act of 2016 will provide a tenant wishing to retire from farming a range of options allowing him to receive realistic and fair compensation for not only the improvements he has carried out during his tenancy, but also for the value of his interest in the lease.

As at present, a tenant leaving his tenancy is only bound to receive compensation for agreed improvements he has made to the unit, on top of traditional compensation for crops in the ground, residual manurial values and so on. In many cases this represents a paltry sum and is no incentive for a tenant to retire early and make way for the next generation.

The new Act changes all this. A tenant wishing to retire can now take advantage of the amnesty on tenant’s improvements and make sure that he is compensated for improvements he has made without the proper paperwork. He can also take advantage of the new section which allows him to assign his tenancy to a limited group of new entrants and progressing farmers, if the landlord does not wish to pre-empt the assignation by buying out the tenant’s interest in the lease, to be calculated by an independent valuer appointed by the Tenant Farming Commissioner. Finally, the tenant also has the option of passing on his tenancy to a much wider class of relative than at present.

However, it is important to note that the Act is not yet active and will be implemented in stages over the next couple of years. Most of the new provisions which do not require secondary legislation should be implemented by the end of this year, but some such as the section of Relinquishing and Assignation of 1991 Tenancies are not expected to be live till next year and the new rent review section will not be available until 2018.

STFA Director Angus McCall comments: “STFA is urging tenants not to jump the gun in trying to use the new Act. There are a number of tenants who are keen to retire and pass the farm on, but they should be patient and wait a few months until various parts of the Act are active before taking action. Although the principle of compensating a tenant for transferring his interest in the lease back to his landlord has been agreed, the valuation process is still to be finalised. It is thought the tenant’s share of the value of the tenancy may be about 25% of the open market value of the farm, but this will vary according to the individual’s circumstances.

“It is also vitally important that informed expert advice is sought. Tenancy law becomes more complicated with every act of parliament and there is a lot of misunderstanding and misinformation on the go. Even some professional advisers seem to be confused. Not even the so-called experts get it right, if a recent presentation on rent reviews at law conference is anything to go by! Rather than being enlightening, the confused and inaccurate talk on the new rent system saw many of his colleagues equally at sea with the new laws.

“The Interim Adviser on Tenant Farming, Andrew Thin has just issued an “Interim Code on Determining Compensation at Way-Go”, but it must be emphasised this this code relates to the law as it stands and anyone contemplating quitting a holding should note that the Land Reform Act offers alternative ways of realising the value in a secure 1991 Act tenancy once those provisions come into effect. STFA strongly recommends that independent professional advice is sought before agreeing any way-go valuation in order to fully assess the different options that may be available. Tenant farmers should take advantage of the show season to speak to representative organisations. STFA is fully up to speed with the new Act and has the added advantage of a free legal helpline provided by Hamish Lean who was a member of the AHLRG.

“These are important decisions which can be irreversible so tenants must make sure they get them right!”

 

 

Cab. Sec. urged to put new tenancy laws into force without delay

Cab. Sec. urged to put new tenancy laws into force without delay

Scottish Tenant Farmers Association

News Release

15th June 2016

Cab. Sec. urged to put new tenancy laws into force without delay

 

The Scottish Tenant Farmers Association is urging the new Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy and Connectivity, Fergus Ewing, to put Part 10 of the Land Reform Act relating to farm tenancies into force as soon as possible.

Although the Land Reform Act was passed by the Scottish Parliament in March and received Royal Assent in April, it is not yet active and STFA has been informed that some sections, such as rent reviews, are unlikely to be implemented for at least another couple of years. STFA recognises that delays are inevitable due to the need for fine details to be agreed and enshrined in secondary legislation, but has called upon government to press on with this work as a matter of urgency.

In his letter to the Cabinet Sectary, STFA chairman Christopher Nicholson said: “Whilst we appreciate that there is a great deal of work to be done before the Land Reform Act can be fully implemented, particularly with regard to much of the detail of the new rent test, there are areas of the new act which do not require further legislation and could be implemented almost immediately.

“Neither the section relating to succession and assignation nor the appointment of a Tenant Farming Commissioner are subject to regulatory powers and could be up and running almost immediately. As we all know, life (and death) carries on, regardless of the parliamentary process, and there is a danger that some tenants may narrowly miss out form transferring their tenancies to a chosen relative if this part of the Act is delayed. STFA is aware of several tenants in this position where a delay of weeks, or even days could mean the difference between a family retaining or losing a tenancy.

“Similarly, the work currently being undertaken by Andrew Thin is demonstrating the need for a Tenant Farming Commissioner to help with relationships between landlords, their factors and tenant farmers and to review the way in which land agents operate. Relationships may well become fraught again as the new provisions within the Act are used and the steadying hand of a TFC be needed to encourage reasonable relationships between landlords and tenants.

“Rent reviews remain one of the most contentious areas of dispute between landlords and their tenants, the longer the delay in the new rent test becoming available the greater the chance of land agents trying to pre-empt change by using the current system to hike up rents.

“The Land Reform Act heralds a new era for tenant farming and the sooner it becomes active the quicker the tenanted sector will be able to adjust their businesses and plan ahead for the future.”

STFA WELCOMES NEW RURAL AFFAIRS MINISTERIAL TEAM

STFA WELCOMES NEW RURAL AFFAIRS MINISTERIAL TEAM

Scottish Tenant Farmers Association

News Release

18th May 2016

STFA WELCOMES NEW RURAL AFFAIRS MINISTERIAL TEAM

And pays tribute to outgoing Cab Sec Richard Lochhead

 

The Scottish Tenant Farmers Association welcomes the appointment of Fergus Ewing as the new Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy and Connectivity and Roseanna Cunningham, Cabinet Secretary for the Environment and Land Reform.  The two new cabinet secretaries take over the Rural Affairs portfolio previously held for the last 9 years by Richard Lochhead who resigned earlier from his position as Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Food and Environment.

Commenting on the changes to the Holyrood Cabinet, STFA chairman Christopher Nicholson said: “After an unprecedented 9 years in the post of Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, today we learn of the resignation of Richard Lochhead. Of all ministerial posts, the rural affairs portfolio is one of the most complex and wide ranging including farming, fishing, forestry, land tenure, food and drink, and much more.

“Following his 9 years in office, Richard Lochhead will be remembered as a hard-working and committed Cabinet Secretary who was prepared to listen to all sides of an argument. He has built up great knowledge and understanding of subjects around farming and fishing, and his food and drink policy has been a runaway success. All these efforts have been largely forgotten over the last few months due to the furore over delays in making support payments to farmers, no doubt encouraged by politics in the run up to the Holyrood election.

“Under Richard Lochhead’s leadership, land reform has taken a great step forward as Scotland moves towards more modern and inclusive systems of land use and tenure. He has delivered welcome and far reaching improvements for tenant farmers through the Land Reform Act which has also introduced greater flexibility for landlords looking to let out land. With his commitment to food and farming in Scotland, many tenants would have been pleased to see him continue in his post, and STFA would like to thank him for his efforts and wish him and his family all the best for the future.

“However, there is still much work to be done to see the tenancy reform measures in the Act implemented, and STFA look forward to working with the new Cabinet Secretary Fergus Ewing over the coming months. We will be seeking an early meeting to discuss likely timetables for the implementation of the Land Reform Act, and to look at some of the measures that were omitted from the Act but could be addressed in the new Parliament. As a former member of the Rural Affairs Committee and Rural Affairs Spokesperson, Fergus Ewing has considerable previous experience of rural matters.

“With the inevitable overlaps between land reform and tenancy reform, STFA also look forward to working with Roseanna Cunningham following her appointment today as the new Cabinet Secretary for the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform. As a former Minister for the Environment, she also brings significant knowledge of rural affairs to the new Cabinet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Independent Adviser to tackle rent reviews and land agents

Independent Adviser to tackle rent reviews and land agents

Scottish Tenant Farmers Association

News Release

 

 

22nd March 2016

 

Independent Adviser to tackle rent reviews and land agents

 

The Scottish Tenant Farmers Association has given its backing to the Independent Adviser on Tenant Farming, Andrew Thin’s initiatives to tackle the thorny issues of rent reviews and the role of land agents. STFA considers problem rent reviews to be one of the main reasons for breakdowns in relationships between landlords and tenants.

Andrew Thin has launched two initiatives this week; he is calling for a wide-ranging debate about the role of land agents and secondly, he is calling for feedback on recent rent review practices and is encouraging landlords and tenants to contact him directly for advice or to intervene if requested.

Responding to these initiatives, STFA Director Angus McCall said: “Evidence given to the AHLRG and parliament in the run up to the Land Reform Bill has shown that the actings of land agents, especially in the conduct of rent reviews, has been at the heart of widespread discontent in the tenanted sector and is directly responsible for the souring of many relationships between landlords and tenants. As a consequence, one of the first tasks of the Tenant Farming commissioner will be to review the operation of land agents and make recommendations on improvements that could be made.

“Rent reviews should represent a break in the lease where discussions take place, not just about rent, but more generally about the state of the holding, what repairs need to be done or improvements to be made and crucially the profitability of farming. Nowadays these discussions rarely take place even where there is a resident factor.  All too often the rent review is contracted out to an outside firm of land agents whose sole motivation is to maximise the rent for the holding, regardless of the economic impact on the farming business. Faced with the threat of the Land Court tenants frequently feel they have no option but to agree.

“Andrew Thin’s intervention now signals a new era in landlord/tenant relationships where bad practice and bad behaviour will no longer be tolerated. We support his notion of a Code of Conduct Specific to Agricultural Holdings promoting integrity, respect, transparency and accountability.  These are commonsense values, but are frequently ignored in the context of agricultural tenancies and STFA welcomes their incorporation the professional codes of conduct.

“STFA has long advocated the creation of an industry ombudsman to keep a watchful eye and see fair play in the sector and therefore also supports Andrew Thin’s call for feedback on rent review practices following signs that joint industry guidance is being ignored. For years STFA has warned about the bad behaviour of a significant minority of land agents and has consistently been criticised by landlord organisations for not producing evidence.  However, it has become obvious that tenants are nervous about making complaints and Andrew Thin has now opened a route for tenants to seek impartial and confidential advice and he has indicated that he is prepared to intervene where necessary.

“These initiatives are timely in the run up to the May rent review date and STFA would encourage any tenant being faced with a demand for a hefty rent rise of worried about the conduct of the rent review to make contact with Andrew Thin, either directly or through representative bodies. We would also encourage land agents to follow codes of conduct and limit any rent demand in line with industry guidelines if it can be justified.

“However, it is hard to see many circumstances where a rent increase could be defensible considering the parlous state of farming with commodity prices on the floor and reduced support payments. Rents are at a standstill or falling in England and this should be the case in Scotland as well.”

Tenants wanting to contact IATF Andrew Thin through the Scottish Government should contact:

Claudine Duff at tenantfarmingqueries@gov.scot or on 0131-244-2293

Tenancy ombudsman looks for information on rent reviews

PRESS RELEASE

 

The Independent Adviser on Tenant Farming, Andrew Thin, has called on landlords and tenants to help provide feedback on recent rent review practices around the country.

The move follows a number of cases where Joint Industry Guidance on conducting rent reviews does not appear to have been followed.

Particular concern has been expressed about an alleged practice of tabling rent proposals well above or below inflation without clear justification or explanation.

In a number of cases this tactic is thought to have led to unnecessary tension between landlords and tenants at a time when industry leaders are promoting greater collaboration.

A failure in some instances to identify the sources of comparable information used in rent proposals has also been highlighted.

This practice contravenes the guidance and makes it almost impossible for the other party to verify the reasonableness of the rent being proposed.

In issuing his call for help Andrew Thin said –

“The majority of rent reviews are conducted without fuss and on the basis of a close mutual understanding between the landlord and tenant. That is as it should be”.

“Most people have found the Joint Industry Guidance helpful, and many are also now using the new Self Help Guide to Rent Reviews”.

“But there are still people out there who are taking an unnecessarily confrontational approach to rent reviews, and who are not following the Joint Industry Guidance”.

“I am encouraging landlords and tenants to get in touch with me if they are aware of such situations. I may be able to directly intervene if that is what people want me to do”.

“At the very least the feedback will help to inform the thinking of government and the industry bodies as we move towards implementation of provisions in the Land Reform (Scotland) Bill”.

The Independent Adviser can be contacted via his web page at

www.gov.scot/Topics/farmingrural/Agriculture/agricultural-holdings/Tenant-Farming-Adviser

Independent Adviser on Tenant Farming calls for debate on r

PRESS RELEASE

 

The Independent Adviser on Tenant Farming, Andrew Thin, has called for a wide ranging debate about the role of agents following an amendment to the Land Reform (Scotland) Bill.

The amendment was tabled in Parliament last week by Richard Lochhead MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Food and Environment.

It will require an incoming Tenant Farming Commissioner to report on the operation of agents in relation to agricultural holdings within 12 months of the measure coming into force.

The Independent Adviser has now issued a discussion paper on conduct and standards for agents in order to facilitate debate across the industry about the issues raised in Parliament.

He is also seeking meetings with all the relevant professional bodies that represent agents in order to get their input and support for appropriate action.

Explaining the thinking behind the discussion paper Andrew Thin said – “Concern has been expressed in Parliament about widespread dissatisfaction with the conduct of agents in some cases. This is not something that anyone who acts on behalf of landlords or tenants can afford to ignore”.

“Of course many agents are doing an excellent and professional job, but something is clearly going wrong in certain cases, and it is vital that the sector acts quickly to get on top of this”.

“Agents, and especially the large firms that employ many of them, should be able to resolve this for themselves rather than relying on government to do it for them”.

A copy of the discussion paper  is available direct from the Independent Adviser at www.gov.scot/Topics/farmingrural/Agriculture/agricultural-holdings/Tenant-Farming-Adviser

Land Reform Bill an enormous step forward

Land Reform Bill an enormous step forward

Scottish Tenant Farmers Association

News Release

 16th March 2016

Land Reform Bill an enormous step forward

  The Scottish Tenant Farmers Association has greeted the Land Reform Bill, successfully passed through the Scottish Parliament today by an overwhelming majority, as the most significant reform to tenancy legislation since tenant farmers were granted security of tenure in 1948. The Land Reform part of the Bill is an enormous step forward to bringing much needed change to the way in which Scotland’s land is owned and managed, and the establishment of the Land Commission will guarantee the land reform becomes an on-going process.

Part 10 of the Bill, on Agricultural Holdings, has greatly strengthened the position of tenants by creating a Tenant farming Commissioner to improve relationships and see fair play between landlords and tenants; introduce a much fairer and more transparent system of rent reviews; improve the end of tenancy compensation; greatly broaden the class of relative entitled to succeed into a tenancy; and create an exit route for 1991 tenants to assign their tenancies to new entrants or farmers progressing through the industry if their landlord does not want to buy them out.

Commenting on the bill STFA Chairman Christopher Nicholson said: “The tenanted sector has been in long term decline for decades, in 1982, 42% of Scotland’s farmland was tenanted, today it is 24% and these reforms to agricultural holdings will go a long way to breathe new life into the tenanted sector.

“The Scottish Government has recognised the value of 1991 tenancies and the family farms they represent as the backbone of the tenanted sector and has taken steps to ensure they do not wither on the vine by allowing them to be passed to a much wider group of relatives and also to new entrants and farmers making their way up the farming ladder. Rather than “mothball” the tenanted sector, as suggested by Alex Fergusson MSP in parliament today, the proposed changes to tenancy legislation will inject a new dynamism creating confidence, stimulating investment and forward planning.

“Opponents to the bill should now stop the rhetoric of threatening not to let land or to legally challenge the new legislation, and recognise that Scotland is moving on and land reform is becoming a reality. There is nothing in the bill that should deter landlords from using the new tenancies and, in practice, there will be very little in the rest of the bill which will materially disadvantage landlords.

“Tenants will also be heartened that this bill is taking a hard line with the behaviour of land agents who are frequently the cause of breakdowns in landlord/tenant relationships. One of the first tasks of the new Tenant Farming Commissioner will be to conduct a review of the way in which land agents operate and make recommendations where necessary.  This will build on the work already started by the interim commissioner, Andrew Thin, and will go a long way to regulate the bad behaviour which has been a blight on the sector.

“This bill was very much unfinished business from 2003 and STFA is pleased that some of our key objectives since then have been achieved:

  • High profile rent reviews have highlighted the deficiencies in the rent system – that is now being overhauled.
  • The lack of investment in tenanted farms has inhibited tenant farmers in comparison to their owner-occupier peers, new compensation and end of tenancy options will stimulate investment and put tenants on a level playing field with other farmers.
  • Finally, concerns over the rapid fall in 1991 secure tenancies will now be addressed by wider succession and assignations provisions. There is still more to do, but this is a good start.“In addition to bring forward legislation fit for 21st century agriculture, the bill also heralds a change in culture for landlords and tenants. Attitudes of the past should be put aside and the focus must now be on developing successful long-term businesses in the tenanted sector by making best use of the new legislation.”