Defra publishes new code of practice for tenanted sector to tackle bad behaviour

TFA chief executive George Dunn said it was a shame that we needed a Code of Practice to tell people how to behave, adding 'for too long tenants have felt marginalised and mistreated and this Code of Practice is a major step forward for the sector'

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Defra publishes new code of practice for tenanted sector to tackle bad behaviour

A new Code of Practice to regulate the conduct of landlord tenant relationships within agricultural sector in England has been published today (April 8), in what the Tenant Farmers Association (TFA) described as 'a major step forward'. 

The new code is part of the work of the Farm Tenancy Forum (FTF), which was established following the Rock review report into the sector, chaired by Baroness Kate Rock. 

Tenant farmers

The Code of Practice received cross sectoral support from both tenant and landlord representative organisations. It follows a recent a survey conducted by the TFA and exclusively shared with the Farmers Guardian, which highlighted widespread evidence of poor conduct, particularly by landlords' agents.

The survey found 30 per cent of respondents to its survey felt bullied or harassed by their landlords and 37 per cent felt bullied or harassed by their landlords' agents. In addition, 70 per cent of respondents reported that they did not even have regular meetings with their landlords, with over 90 per cent in favour of a Code of Practice. 

See also: EXCLUSIVE: 'Bullies' - tenant farmers survey reveals strained relationship with landlords and land agents

Code of Practice

TFA chief executive George Dunn said "Whilst it is a shame in this day and age that we need a Code of Practice which tells people how to behave, it is clear that we need clarity around the rules of conduct.

"For too long tenants have felt marginalised and mistreated and this Code of Practice is a major step forward for the sector. Whilst I am not naïve enough to think that, in itself, the Code of Practice will resolve all the current problems within the sector, it will provide an important touch point for people to call out and deal with poor practice."

'Clarity, communication and collaboration'

The code is founded on three principles of: clarity, communication and collaboration and uses the word 'should' to describe minimum standards expected of landlords and tenants, and their professional advisers, unless good reasons suggest otherwise.

See also: Farmers Guardian podcast - Andrew Dakin: "I face eviction from my Derbyshire tenant farm for solar panels"

Specific sections cover the initial grant of a tenancy, routine engagement during its term, the payment of rent, rent reviews, improvements, access to environmental schemes and other business opportunities, termination and renewal, disputes and the role of professional advisers and agents.

Defra

Defra Secretary Steve Barclay said he was 'pleased' to see the launch of his new Code of Practice, adding that it would ensure the tenanted sector continues to thrive 'by promoting positive relationships between tenants and landlords.'

Mr Barclay said: "It continues our progress to implement the Government's Response to the Rock Review, with over a third of the commitments already completed, and actions underway to deliver on most other areas."

Mutual respect

The FTF said each section of the code is characterised by commitments to clear communication, realistic timetables and expectations, mutual respect, the long view, and clear and documented agreed outcomes to negotiations conducted positively and flexibly.

They said the spirit of these sentiments should continue where disputes arise, with a view to their fair, practical and cost effective resolution. It is hoped that tenants and landlords, professional advisers and agents will promote the adoption and application of the code.

Mr Dunn said the code of practice was a document that can 'sit on farmers' kitchen table's and can be referred to during discussions between landlords and tenants including rent reviews.

Land agents

He said: "I would like to see the professional bodies which regulate land agents and other advisers in the let sector making the Code of Practice part of their regulatory functions so that professionals can be truly held to account for their actions. In addition, we would like to see the code referred to in tenancy agreements, letters of instruction and in other important agreements. We need to change the culture within the landlord tenant sector and, at last, we have a Code of Practice which should help us to do so."

See also: Defra criticised for delays over Tenant Farming Commissioner

But Mr Dunn said landlords' agents must ensure they are 'respectful of place and people' particularly when holding meetings within the farm kitchens of tenant farmers, adding 'the the words that they use will reverberate around that special place for weeks, months and years after any engagement takes place'.

Negotiations

He said "The code of practice emphasises the need for matters to be discussed in good time, so that people are not rushed into making decisions. Equally, in holding sensitive discussions, it will be necessary to choose the time to have those conversations, carefully avoiding busy times of the year or periods of particular emotional stress for farmers and their families.

"There needs to be a recognition of the shared rights and responsibilities of all parties. These must be respected by all those who are taking part in negotiations and discussions in respect of tenanted agricultural holdings." 

'Cross-sector support'

Jeremy Moody, secretary and adviser to the CAAV said: "With the need for a flexible, commercial and positive tenanted sector as a key part of managing the current changes in the agricultural sector, the CAAV was happy to work with all the members of the Farm Tenancy Forum to help deliver what was a key part of the Government's response to the Rock Review.  The CAAV has endorsed the use of this Code of Practice by our members and all the parties to a tenancy agreement

"In promoting the Code and its use by all parties the CAAV's model FBTs for England now include a reference to the Code so that, as part of our "no surprises" approach, it is there as a guide for the parties to a tenancy agreement to behave with fairness and respect."   

Farm Tenancy Forum

Julian Sayers, chair of the FTF added he hoped all those involved in granting agricultural tenancy agreements and negotiation will embrace the code 'for the good of the let sector as a whole'. 

"The member organisations of the Farm Tenancy Forum will be actively promoting awareness and adoption of the code along with monitoring its impact during our regular meetings."

Tenant Farming Commissioner

Now that the Code of Practice has been published, the TFA are now calling for the appointment of a Tenant Farming Commissioner who would oversee and develop the code.

NFU deputy president David Exwood added: "Agricultural tenants and tenanted land play a vital role in delivering this government's food production and environmental ambitions, and in growing our rural economies. We now need to see further recommendations from the Rock Review taken forward, including the creation of a Tenant Farming Commissioner who in a defined role could take up non-compliance with the new code."

An announcement about the appointment of a commissioner is due to be made by DEFRA in May before the 'Farm to Fork' summit following its recent call for evidence.

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