Farmers Weekly’s Business Clinic experts offer free advice on legal, finance, tax, insurance, farm management and land issues.
Here Stephen Lockwood, Associate, Savills Food & Farming – offers guidance to an elderly farmer with a small acreage
Q I am 81 years old and was left 50 acres of pasture and ancient woodland when my farmer husband died in 2002.
I have tried to manage the land with graziers to the best of my ability since then, in the faint hope a grandchild might want to farm it. However, none seems really keen.
I am finding it increasingly difficult as the rules and regulations change. Last year I struggled with my BPS claim online; it kept me awake at night. The nearest help centre was about 20 miles away.
Added to that both the Forestry Commission and environmental scheme claims required photographic evidence, which I was unable to fulfil, due to steep land and my osteoarthritis.
Stephen Lockwood, Associate, Savills Food & Farming
It does not seem sensible to pay someone else to do my claims on such a small acreage. What should I do next?
A Unfortunately the “red tape” associated with claiming grant or subsidy payments becomes more complex and burdensome, while the financial penalties for errors are disproportionate. The government’s digital by default policy is not as customer friendly as it could be. Your situation is a perfect example of this.
If income from these various sources is a significant part of your living expenses then it is important that you continue to claim them. If not, then you could cease to claim some or all of the payments and many (not all) of the rules and regulations associated with the schemes would effectively disappear.
To some extent you have already reduced the level of regulation and compliance on your farm by not keeping your own stock and using seasonal graziers. You should use a formal written grazing agreement to protect your position as the farmer and owner occupier.
Option to rent
There is the option of renting the land to a third party – this would provide you with a more regular income and remove the burden of your claiming the grants and subsidies. There are potential tax issues from this course for you and your heirs, so professional advice is a must.
Most advisers will offer a free initial consultation. Ask for written terms of business including the level of fees and expenses they propose to charge. I would always agree a fixed fee for any professional work to be undertaken.
The Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institute is a welfare charity that supports farming people of all ages and may be of help to you.
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