Where does the time go? Believe it or not, the last time I had the honour of writing the ponderings bestowed upon me it was the beginning of March. In fear of repeating myself, I thought I had better read March’s edition to refresh my memory. The opening paragraph referred to the ‘Beast from the East’, which is a stark contrast to the weather we are currently experiencing. Most clients, except those with silage to do, are hoping for rain, especially those with spring crops that were drilled late in a dry time. On the whole, crops look well, and the grass appears plentiful, which is quite remarkable when you think back.
The ponderings would not be the ponderings without reference to the Basic Payment Scheme. The 6 weeks prior to the 15th May were a complete blur and probably the most hectic yet, which was largely caused by the RPA’s decision to add a ‘hedge layer’ to the online Rural Payments service. I think it was a good idea, but, as ever, poorly executed. In 2017, applicants simply claimed for hedges on a linear basis; let’s face it, a farmer knows his hedges better than anyone. If the applicant was subject to an inspection, then the RPA would check that the hedges claimed on are present and correct. Fast forward to 2018, the RPA introduced a hedge layer, which supposedly maps all eligible hedges using satellite imagery. Applicants could only claim on what was mapped; if they were not mapped, then (yep you guessed it) an RLE1 form was necessary. Unsurprisingly, the hedge layer was not accurate – large sections of hedges were missing etc. All in all, this made the application process even more protracted. If you’re planning on using your hedges next year, it may be worth preparing an RLE1 form in early 2019, when there is less pressure on the system and your local land agent! Separately, although BPS related, please ensure you have saved a copy of your submitted application on your computer. The reason for is the data shown on the application summary is the ‘live’ data on the RPA’s system and can change post-submission, meaning if a BPS 2018 submitted application summary on the Rural Payments service is accessed online at a future date it may not contain the same data as you submitted prior to 15th May.
For those that requested a Mid-Tier Application Pack by 31st May 2018, remember you have until 31st July 2018 to submit your application. With the introduction of the simplified Mid-Tier offers, it is clear that more farmers are applying this year than in previous years. If you are minded to seek our assistance with an application, then please contact us sooner rather than later, so we can make a start. The application process can be time consuming, and may require input from third parties, so please make a start now. The Agricultural Team have a good understanding of the scheme and are ready to help clients with their applications, so please do not hesitate to contact a member of the team.
I seem to mention this next subject frequently, which is hardly surprising, as there is a lot to gain (or lose). That subject is the formalisation of informal arrangements, commonly known as a ‘Gentlemens Agreement’. At present, I am dealing with several disputes concerning boundaries or occupations, which nearly all started life as informal agreements. A reasonably small upfront cost could save you significant sums in the future. For example, if someone can successfully claim an Agricultural Holdings Act 1986 tenancy, then this could reduce the property’s value by half!! The agreement need not be complicated, it could be letter of agreement, which is signed by both parties. Doing nothing is rarely the right answer. Consider also possible taxation implications of informal arrangements. If an informal grazier transpires to be a tenancy, then how will this affect your taxation status? Please save yourself the time and expense of a dispute by putting in place an agreement while the parties are getting on.
Continuing in a similar vein, I thought I would finish off with a case concerning the ‘hedge and ditch’ rule, which serves as a useful reminder as to its relevance in the context of a boundary dispute. The case related to a dispute between Mr Upton, the landowner, and the neighbour, Mr Parmar. Mr Upton accused Mr Parmar of trespassing on his land, which had formerly been a ditch that Mr Parmar had filled in. The ditch was located on the far side of the hedge owned by Mr Upton and the previous ditch area, Mr Parmar subsequently developed. At the County Court hearing, the judge found in favour of Mr Upton, seeing no reason to depart from the ‘hedge and ditch’ rule. Mr Parmar appealed the decision providing additional evidence challenging the rule. Again, the Court dismissed this. The judge held the view that the ‘hedge and ditch’ rule remained very relevant and, in the absence of any compelling evidence to the contrary, the presumption of the hedge and ditch rule would stand.
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