A tribunal hearing has ruled that the ex-wife of farmworker does not have a protected tenancy on her home, as the protected status she believed she had was only granted to her former husband and not the couple jointly.
The case, Hook v Hawkins, was heard by the Upper Tribunal Lands Chamber, and was an appeal based on a decision made in 2018 by the First-Tier Tribunal (FTT).
The FTT had ruled it did not have the jurisdiction to hear an application concerning a new rent for the property under an assured tenancy agreement, because it said the tenant had a protected tenancy dating back to the 1970s, not an assured tenancy.
The Upper Tribunal heard how a farmworker and his wife moved into a rent-free house when he was employed as a farmworker by the original landowners in 1975.
The couple lived there until 1990, when they separated. The husband moved out and subsequently left his employment.
The wife and their children stayed in the property, remaining on good terms with the landowners, and she was not asked for any rent, even after her divorce came through in 1991.
By 1993, she was approached by the original landowners, who said the property was needed for another farmworker, but they would find her somewhere else to live.
She was provided with another house at an agreed rent of £200/month.
The tenant and her children did not want to leave the original property, but were reassured that as soon as a suitable property became available, they would be informed.
Another, more suitable, property became available in 1995, which she moved into with her family, again paying rent.
This property was subsequently sold in 2015, meaning the tenant gained a new landlord, who proposed a change in rent levels.
See also: So you want to…let land and property?
The FTT had taken the view that the original accommodation had been let to the couple, so they were both protected tenants and had the scrutiny of tenure and rent control provisions set out in the Rent (Agriculture) Act 1976 and the Rent Act 1977.
This meant even after the husband’s departure, the tenant had protected status in her own right.
However, following representations from the landlord, the Upper Tribunal concluded that the ex-husband was the only protected occupier of the original property under a licence (not a tenancy) and that protection came to an end when he left his employment.
The tenant could not enjoy a statutory tenancy in her own right because she had never been a qualifying worker, nor had she ever been granted a relevant licence or tenancy.
Nothing was in writing and so there was no evidence of any contract between the tenant and the original landowners.
As a result, the judge ruled her status in the original dwelling and that of subsequent accommodation was an assured periodic tenancy, as set out within the Housing Act 1988.
Limited landlord power
Simon Beetham, a solicitor with the rural services team of Moore Blatch, said with an assured periodic tenancy the tenant would have security in that the landlord would not be able to evict unless there was a breach of one of the terms of the tenancy agreement, such as rent arrears or a significant breach of the repairs covenant.
“But the landlord does have more ability to review the rent within an assured tenancy, than perhaps under a protected Rent Act tenancy.
“They can serve certain notices and effectively force a rent review. It does gives the landlord a bit more flexibility.”
Mr Beetham warned that the case was not an uncommon one on farms and estates, where workers and family members of loyal workers might be offered housing, and it highlighted the importance of taking professional advice and making sure everything was put in writing.
“Landlord and tenant law can be very complicated, so making sure you understand what arrangement you are entering into is vital.”
Housing issues – get in touch
Do you have a question or issue with on-farm worker or family housing rights?
Whether you are an employer or employee, get in touch with Farmers Weekly‘s business desk at FWbusiness@rbi.co.uk or write to us at Business Desk, Farmers Weekly, Quadrant House, The Quadrant, Sutton, Surrey, SM2 5AS.