FARMERS HAVE been advised not to ignore rates demands from local authorities arising from the recent inclusion of 'sporting rights' in the rateable value of rural land – they must either be paid or properly challenged, if further punitive charges are to be avoided.

That was the warning from NFU Scotland this week, while it firmly restated its overall opposition to the inclusion of sporting rates in farm calculations.

Since that change was made, the union has been working with Scottish assessors as part of the sporting rates advisors forum considering technical issues arising from the demands issued. However, it has become apparent some farmers and crofters have not responded to their bills, often because they are not responsible for the sporting rates on their land.

NFUS policy manager Gemma Cooper said: “There are a number of scenarios where recipients of sporting rates bills may not be the responsible party. For example, where sporting rights are retained by a landlord, or where they are let to a third party.

“We have become aware that there are some farmers and crofters who are in this situation. We urge them to respond to demands for sporting rates by immediately informing their local authority that they are not the responsible party," she advised.

“The result of ignoring sporting rates bills is potentially an escalation of letters, and potential debt collection action by the local authority."

As such, the union has urged all of its members to ensure that the relevant paperwork is dealt with timeously, and that both the local authority and Scottish assessors are quickly informed of any incorrect information relating to each rates demand.

“For those members who wish to appeal, they are reminded that this must be carried out within six months of receipt, and that submitting an appeal does not negate the requirement for payment in the first instance," added Ms Cooper.

“NFUS and other stakeholders have recently written to ministers to highlight issues which have come to light, and to ask for a review.”