Wise to seek farming advice, but not from Baldrick
'Two things, my lord, must thee know of the Wisewoman. First, she is'¦ a woman! And second, she is'¦'
“You do know her then?”
“No, just a wild stab in the dark which is incidentally what you’ll be getting if you don’t start being a bit more helpful.”
This exchange from the Blackadder series was brought to mind last week when, in an attempt to offer an alternative to the never-ending election analysis, I sought some background information on the three-year amnesty on tenants’ improvements which begins tomorrow.
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Part of last year’s Land Reform Act, the amnesty provides a unique opportunity for tenants who have carried out improvements like installing buildings, fences, and drainage schemes on their farms and who simply never got round to giving the required notification to their landlord.
It might be because it was too much bother, or the tenant felt he’d just be making a nuisance of himself – or knew that he’d end up footing the bill anyway – but it’s a common scenario to have arisen over the course of tenancies which might have been running for many decades.
Like all worthwhile things, though, getting the details required for the amnesty could be a hassle – especially when improvements might have been carried out by previous generations.
• READ MORE: Farm tenants and landlords urged to use new amnesty
And, in truth, it’s not likely to provide much in the way of benefit to tenants until they actually give up their tenancies and seek compensation for the value of the investments which they have made on the farm.
But despite the bother it’s likely to be worth doing. For not only is it an opportunity to get improvements formally recognised, but with the new rental determination set to be based on the productive capacity of the farm it will be more important to know who has provided what facilities on the unit.
And while, there are different rules for tenant’s improvements and tenant’s fixtures, the amnesty provides an opportunity to get work recognised.
However, getting back to Blackadder, two things must thee know about the three-year amnesty.
Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, it’s an amnesty that would be calculated at waygo. And it definitely isn’t a cash-back offer which will see a tenant come away with a cheque in his hand for the work which has been carried out over the years.
So the amnesty is about getting things regularised well in advance of any discussions which would take place if a tenancy ever comes to an end.
And the second thing – and, yes, you might get it with a wild stab in the dark – is that it will last three years.
Now, three years might seem like quite a long time and it’s always easy to put the thing to one side until the last minute. But getting involved in such discussions with a landlord – and agreeing on who’s done what won’t be a speedy business when you’re looking at sketchy records which might date back more than 50 years – so advice is: start early.
One point not widely realised is the fact that any projects still at the planning stage or not yet completed will not qualify for inclusion – so if you’ve got a shed half built at the moment without giving the required notification or getting the required permission, you could be on a sticky wicket.
But while there is a statutory process drawn up for the amnesty, the smart money is on tenants discussing the issues with their landlords first – preferably in an amicable manner which won’t slip into confrontation.
And the Land Commission will this week release a code of practice which lays out the manner in which these discussions should be conducted.
The Scottish Agricultural Arbiters & Valuers Association together with the Central Association of Agricultural Valuers are also set to release a highly detailed guide.
Plenty of advice to chew over – but the smart money is on getting started now, just in case you need to seek the help of a wise woman (or even settle for a wise man) to help you with the job.