In a not entirely unexpected move, the Chancellor has extended the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (the Furlough Scheme) until the end of September 2021. From 1 May, employers will be able to claim for employees who were employed on 2 March 2021 (the current cut-off date is 30 October 2020). The scheme is open to all employers regardless of whether or not they have taken advantage of the scheme to date.
The government grant will be tiered as follows with employees being entitled to a percentage of their salary, or maximum amount, depending on which is lower. From 1 July, employers will have to fund the difference between the government grant and 80% (or the cap) of their employees’ wages. They will also have to pay Employer NI and minimum pension contributions.
Rises to wage and statutory rates
From 1 April 2021, the National Minimum Wage and Living Wage will increase. The rates will be:
- £8.91 per hour (from £8.72) aged 23 and over (National Living Wage)
- £8.36 per hour (from £8.20) aged 21 – 22
- £6.56 per hour (from £6.45) aged 18 – 20
- £4.62 per hour (from £4.55) aged 16 -17. The apprentice rate increases from £4.15 to £4.30 per hour.
The National Living Wage has previously applied to individuals aged 25 and over. It is important to note that this has now been amended and the National Living Wage now applies to those aged over 23.
Statutory benefit payments from April 2021:
- Statutory maternity, paternity, adoption and shared parental pay increases from £151.20 per week to £151.97 (or 90% of the employee’s average weekly earnings, whichever is lower).
Pay for Parental Bereavement Leave (which was originally introduced in 2020), will also increase to £151.97 per week
- Statutory sick pay limits rise from £95.85 to £96.35
In December the government announced a further extension to the Seasonal Workers Pilot which was originally launched in 2019. Another 30,000 visas have been made available for those wanting to work on UK farms for up to six months. The government also announced that it would continue promoting the ‘Pick for Britain’ initiative, encouraging British workers to sign up for seasonal work. In the same announcement, it was noted that Defra would be conducting a review into how automation could lessen horticulture’s reliance on seasonal labour. For those farming businesses already employing EU workers on a permanent basis, if they wish to stay in the UK they must apply to the settlement scheme by June 30, 2021 to continue to live and work here.
Slurry Investment Scheme (SIS)
The SIS was mentioned in the government's 'Path to Sustainable Farming: An Agricultural Transition Plan 2021 to 2024' (published in November 2020), and in March this year, Defra announced further details of the scheme. Successful applicants must be able build a slurry storage unit, complete with impermeable cover, large enough to accommodate at least six months slurry production. The reasoning behind this decision is to give farmers more flexibility on when they spread the slurry (particularly those in NVZ), reduce pollution, and provide better long term value for money. Applicants must also show that they have received the necessary environmental advice and be able to evidence the effectiveness of the new storage facility.
Rights of Way
Farmers around the country have watched with dismay as fields traversed by Rights of Way were steadily eroded by walkers trying to avoid the muddiest sections after weeks of rainfall earlier in the year. The situation was exacerbated by the sheer number of people discovering the joys of walking as one of the few leisure activities left after a year of Covid-related restrictions, particularly in areas adjacent to urban centres. Unfortunately, the law governing rights of way has not changed: they cannot be obstructed, or diverted without express permission from the local authority. Farmers can erect fencing either side of the path providing the width of the path is not compromised (particularly if barbed or electric fencing is used). Alternatively, permissive paths can be created temporarily if it is feasible to do so, to mitigate some of the damage but, as the original path cannot be closed, there is no guarantee walkers will use the alternative route. Farmers also need to be careful if routing an alternative path along headlands: this could cause cross-compliance issues. Many farmers have erected signs explaining the damage caused by walkers leaving the correct path, encouraging them to stick to the path or avoid using it until it dries up. Our planning team can advise on how to deal with Rights of Way on your land.
…and dogs on the loose
The number of reported dog attacks on livestock has been on the rise over recent months, no doubt driven, in part, by the growing numbers of inexperienced dog owners unable or unwilling to control their dogs. Since the Farmers Guardian’s ‘Take the Lead’ campaign in 2015, many more farmers have posted visible signs, adjacent to Rights of Way, warning dog owners to keep their animals on leads around livestock and to raise public awareness of the dangers of dogs worrying livestock. The keeper of a dog found endangering livestock can be fined up to £1000 and can be sued by the farmer for compensation. As a last resort, a farmer can shoot any dogs they find attacking livestock although they must inform the police within 48 hours. The new Countryside Code, published on 1 April, makes it clear that the actions of those visiting the countryside directly affect other people’s lives and livelihoods. As such it contains more explicit instructions for dog owners, exhorting them to always keep their dog under control and within sight, as well as picking up their faeces.
Countryside Stewardship Mirror Agreements
Defra has announced details of the CS mirror agreements to be offered to holders of existing CS agreements (based on eligible options and parcels) which are due to expire on 31 December 2021. They will mirror existing CS agreements but will operate according to terms and conditions created under domestic regulations and will last for five years. Defra will inform those who are not eligible, giving them time to apply for a new CS agreements. The motivation behind this move is to maintain the environmental momentum achieved by the CS scheme, provide a useful stepping stone to the ELMS, and to maintain current holders’ income stream. More details can be found on gov.uk.