Scottish farming leaders have distanced the tenancy sector north of the border from a shocking new report on English lettings.

The Tenant Farmers Association (TFA), which covers England, published a new survey which found that 30% of respondents felt ‘bullied or harassed’ by their landlords, rising to 37% in dealing with landlords’ agents and representatives. And 40% of respondents felt ignored by their landlords, while 70% said they didn’t even meet with their landlords on a regular basis.

The Scottish Farmer: Christopher Nicholson chair of the Scottish Tenant Farmers AssociationChristopher Nicholson chair of the Scottish Tenant Farmers Association

However, the situation is different in Scotland according to Scottish Tenant Farmers Association chairman, Christopher Nicholson:

‘The results of the English Tenant Farmers Association survey paint a bleak picture of widespread bullying, poor professional practices, and broken landlord-tenant relationships in the sector south of the border. This comes as no surprise to us in Scotland given that our tenanted sector was blighted by similar shocking behaviours prior to the establishment of the Scottish Land Commission and the appointment of a Tenant Farming Commissioner (TFC) in 2017.

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“Indeed, it was evidence of poor professional standards and deteriorating relationships that came to light in the 2014 Scot Gov Review of the tenanted sector which was a key driver for legislative change through the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2016 which established the Land Commission and TFC. “On the whole, the TFC has been effective at improving landlord-tenant relationships and has worked well with stakeholders to publish guidance and codes of practice which have been accepted by the majority as fair and reasonable.

“The limited statutory powers of the TFC provide for a facilitator role rather than that of a policeman which works where parties are willing to change their ways and adopt good practice. This alone in recent years has greatly improved relationships in Scotland’s tenanted sector and the picture today is much better than 10 years ago.

“However, there are still a number of maverick landlords and agents operating in Scotland who view the TFC’s codes of practice as optional and are prepared to continue unchanged with bad practice. Though relatively small in number, given their scale of landownership and land management, they remain a significant strain on our tenanted sector.

“These cases provide good evidence of where further legislation changes are required in the forthcoming Land Reform Bill. The only hope for these tenants is stronger statutory enforcement powers to root out continuing bad practice.

The Scottish Farmer: Stephen Young director of policy at Scottish Land and EstatesStephen Young director of policy at Scottish Land and Estates

“A core part of the TFC’s work is chairing the Tenant Farming Advisory Forum which brings together stakeholders and Scottish Government officials.

In addition to agreeing guidance and codes of practice, the TFC can monitor how well the sector is working, identify future challenges, and make recommendations to change tenancy legislation if necessary. This is a big help to relationships and confidence in the sector because tenants can see that solutions are being developed in response to difficulties arising.’

Director of Policy at Scottish Land and Estates Stephen Young said: “Recent progress on tenant-landowner relationships has undoubtedly been helped by Bob McIntosh, the current Scottish Tenant Farming Commissioner, who has avoided a heavy-handed approach and has managed to steer a reasonable and fair course when dealing with parties.

“His influence, alongside the publication of clear impartial guidance, has improved understanding of tenancy law. With a focus on communication and behaviour, this has almost certainly been of greater value in fostering positive relationships than changes in statute.

“Looking ahead, we need to make sure these steps forward can continue, with legislative change sometimes creating stumbling blocks, whether it be reconciling Scottish housing legislation with farm tenancy legislation or the UK-wide taxation regime failing to keep up in terms of the impact of environmental land management activities on the status of farmland.

“These kinds of issues are not created by tenants or landlords but have the potential to cause tension if a joined-up, fully thought through approach to policymaking is not implemented by the government on both sides of the border.”