Higher Level Stewardship agreements
To help bridge the gap between the expiry of existing environmental scheme and the introduction of ELMS, the RPA has announced that HLS agreements due to expire in 2021, as well as those already extended in in 2019 and 2020, can be extended for a further year providing those schemes have delivered the expected environmental outcomes. However, the extensions will only be agreed on a like for like basis – options cannot be added, amended or removed from landowners’ existing agreements. Guidance has been published setting out the eligibility requirements to secure an extension. Those to whom extensions are not offered can apply for a new Countryside Stewardship scheme.
Metaldehyde – and other chemicals
The outdoor use of metaldehyde to control slugs and snails will be phased out by 31 March 2022, based on advice from the UK Expert Committee on Pesticides (ECP) and the Health & Safety Executive. Defra suggests that alternative controls containing ferric phosphate as well as changing cultivation methods can be as effective. Defra has also announced that, from 1 January 2021, the laws governing pesticide use will remain broadly similar to those already in place.
Private rented accommodation
New regulations relating to electrical safety standards in the private rented sector came into force in June. Those farmers and landowners who let residential property need to ensure that all the electrical installations in that property conform to national standards for electrical safety. Among the requirements is the necessity to have all rented property inspected and tested every five years by a properly qualified person and a report prepared for distribution to the tenant(s) and local authority.
Change to notice periods for residential tenancies
At the end of August, the government introduced new Regulations governing residential tenancy notice periods. They are not clearly drafted and seek instead to amend the amendments that were brought in by the Coronavirus Act 2020 which makes it rather complicated to decipher precisely what the changes are. However, in summary, the changes affecting assured and assured shorthold (including fixed term) tenancies appear to be these:
- Section 21 Notices – not less than 6 months’ notice must be given and the time for issuing proceedings pursuant to a S21 Notice has been extended, so the ‘life’ of a S21 Notice is now 10 months from the date of service and not 6 months.
- S8 Notices (Notices Seeking Possession or NOSP) – not less than 6 months’ notice (although there are exceptions).
Excessive use of right of way upheld in court
In a recent case, a claimant successfully argued that the track they owned was being subjected to excessive use by their neighbours. The defendants, who had a right of way over the track in order to access their land, had grown their business activities considerably to include a shop, tea room, polytunnels, outbuildings and stables. Use of the track was conditional ‘for all purposes in connection with the use of the land conveyed as agricultural land only’. The court considered the extent of the defendants’ activities and concluded that the income from the tea room and shop was such that it was not possible to define their business as largely agricultural. This case demonstrates the need to consider any limitations on easements that might affect any diversification plans.
Time for 1831 Game Act to be updated?
A report by NFU Mutual reveals that the cost of rural crime has risen to £54m, the highest level for eight years, with a 25% increase in machinery theft (particularly GPS tractors) and a 9% increase in livestock theft. A particularly worrying trend is the increase in criminals trespassing onto land for hare coursing. The NFU, CLA and Countryside Alliance are campaigning for the 1831 Game Act to be amended in order to give police greater powers to arrest participants, impound their dogs and vehicles, as well as removing the £2500 limit on the fine that can be imposed.
Remote witnessing of wills – a sign of the times
Since the Covid-19 pandemic struck social distancing measures have made the physical witnessing of a will being signed particularly challenging, especially where many of those making, or changing a will, are shielding or otherwise vulnerable. In response, the government has introduced legislation to allow for wills to be witnessed remotely, via video link. The legislation has been retrospectively from 31 January and will remain in place until 31 January 2022. We will continue to help our clients sign their wills in the physical presence of two witnesses unless absolutely unavoidable; however, if this is not feasible, we put appropriate arrangements in place for remote witnessing. A word of caution: this change in legislation is no guarantee that a will witnessed remotely will be protected from being contested in future.
The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, more commonly known as the Furlough Scheme, was due to finish on 31 October 2020 to be replaced by the Job Support Scheme (“JSS”). In the wake of the Prime Minister’s announcement on 1 November 2020 that a second, UK-wide lockdown would start on 5 November 2020, the government has decided to retain the Furlough Scheme until 31 March 2021. The JSS and the Job Retention Bonus are both temporarily suspended. Under the Scheme all UK businesses with a PAYE scheme in place, can apply for a government grant for up to 80% of their employees’ wages (up to a maximum of £2,500 per month) providing the employee was employed on or before 30 October 2020. Employers are responsible for National Insurance and pension contributions and can take advantage of either full or flexible furlough, bringing back employees to work part-time as the business requires and just claiming the grant for the hours not worked. While HMRC’s system is being updated, employers will be paid in arrears. Once it is up and running, businesses will be paid upfront.