Tenant farmers are being urged to challenge landlords attempting to grab farmland for tree planting schemes, and be aware of crucial deadlines to prevent land being relinquished by default.
The Tenant Farmers’ Association (TFA) says some agents have been misleading tenants that, under Case B of the Agricultural Holdings Act 1986, they can be served with incontestable notices to quit by landlords who want to take back land from agricultural tenancies for tree planting.
However, this route is not permitted for tree planting. It is there for when landlords have gained planning consent for the purposes of non-agricultural use, and therefore the agents’ claims are flatly false, insists TFA chief executive George Dunn.
“Recent case law has confirmed that landlords are not able to use Case B for tree planting, because planning consent is not required since it falls within the General Permitted Development Order,” he said.
The TFA has received several reports of landlords attempting to wrongly threaten the use of Case B.
This includes a large estate in North Yorkshire where it was suggested the tenants might receive higher levels of compensation than they would otherwise be entitled to if the landlord used the notice to quit route.
“Don’t take the queen’s shilling for a bit of extra compensation for something that will remove your rights as a tenant,” Mr Dunn warned.
Seek advice on notices
“It is vital that a tenant doesn’t accept a notice at face value and seeks advice as soon as possible, either through the TFA or a qualified individual, such as a land agent or solicitor.”
A landlord could use a standard notice to quit, but the tenant has the ability to serve a counter notice and require the landlord to get the consent of a tribunal – consent which would not be given for tree planting were there no other factors, said Mr Dunn.
“Consent is only given for sound estate management reasons or reorganisation of the estate, or where there are issues of greater hardship, such as a landlord needing to sell land to meet financial need.”
If a tenant is served with a Case B notice, it is crucial that they respond within the given deadline of one month – because if the time limit to apply to strike through the notice is missed, the application will stand.
The limits of using Case B were clarified by a judgment in the case of Kirby and others v Baker Metson.
It found in the tenant’s favour when a notice to quit, served by a landlord who stated that possession of the whole holding was required to run a commercial game shoot, was challenged.
Tenants on Farm Business Tenancy (FBT) agreements may be more vulnerable to resumption orders, said Mr Dunn, with landlords seeking shorter agreements to allow flexibility.
Under the Woodland Grant Scheme, landlords who had resumed land from tenants for tree planting were prevented from accessing grant aid, yet despite pressure from the TFA, Defra has not made this a criteria of successor schemes.
Defra is gathering information from tree planting grant aid applicants on whether the land earmarked for a scheme has been subject to a recent notice to quit.
“We have also got the ability for tenants to check if their farm has been subject to an application for planting, because that detail is now included on the Forestry Commission public register,’’ Mr Dunn advised.