5 December 1997

Sheep quota deals can go wrong…

SHEEP farmers planning on leasing in or buying sheep quota should be aware that they could go expensively wrong, even if they use an agent.

In August this year a number of West Country farmers were told by MAFF that they would have to repay some of the ewe premiums they had received in 1996 because quota they had leased in had, retrospectively, been confiscated from its owner.

It was taken because MAFF discovered at a late date that the lessor had leased out for 1993 and 1994, kept sheep and used it himself in 1995, and then leased it out again in 1996 because of ill-health. A break of two years is needed between bouts of leasing out.

Ironically MAFF has given the quota back to the lessor because of the special reasons (ill health) why he did not keep sheep in 1996. But it is still insisting that those who received premiums on the quota they leased in must pay it back. The most recent requests said that, if it was not received within two weeks, legal proceedings to recover it would be started.

This action comes at a time when livestock farmers are under severe pressure and those concerned feel it is unjust considering that the quota was confiscated retrospectively, and then returned to the lessor. The quota was there. The sheep were kept for the required period. What exactly was the crime, they ask?

farmers weekly has been unable to obtain an explanation.

It appears that if potential buyers or lessees ask MAFF to confirm that the quota they are interested in is valid, they will not get an answer. If the agent does not accept responsibility, or compensate those who lose out, they will have to resort to suing the seller or lessor. And that might cost more than it is worth. Some agents have stopped dealing in sheep quota because of the pitfalls.

John Burns