In February 2022, the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) set out two clear objectives for Baroness Rock and her agricultural tenancy working group.
The first was to ensure the government's new Environmental Land Management schemes would be accessible, open and flexible for tenant farmers. The second was to look at longer-term changes that would ensure a robust, vibrant and thriving agricultural tenanted sector.
With roughly a third of farmed land in England being tenanted, the sector is vital to the nation's food production and better environmental outcomes.
The review was published last October, and sets out 75 recommendations across six broad themes:
The aim is for the recommendations to move the tenanted sector towards the following:
DEFRA responded to the review in May, and has established a Farm Tenancy Forum that includes members from organisations that represent tenant farmers, landlords and professional advisers working in the sector, including RICS. The forum's focus is on fulfilling the commitments DEFRA outlines in its response.
The forum's inaugural meeting was held in July, and it has started implementing the recommendations of the review. The current priorities are to ensure that tenants have the same access to Environmental Land Management schemes (ELMs) as landlords, and to produce a code of practice on socially responsible behaviour for landlords, occupiers, and agents. That code will set out standards of expected behaviour for all in the sector and help encourage more collaborative tenant-landlord relationships.
RICS rural expert working group member Mike Taylor FRICS represents RICS on the group that is developing the code of practice. RICS believes that the publication and widespread adoption of the code will help change attitudes and behaviours in the agricultural tenanted sector for the better.
RICS was fully involved with the review and submitted two written responses to questions in addition to attending an online session with Baroness Rock and members of the review's working group. After the review was published its representatives met Baroness Rock and members of the review's working group to understand more about the evidence that informed her final recommendations.
RICS also contacted food, farming and fisheries minister Mark Spencer to outline our views and highlight our regulatory framework and dispute resolution process for the sector. RICS CEO Justin Young also had a one-to-one meeting with the minister.
The Institution will continue to work actively to support those in the tenanted sector. RICS supports constructive dialogue and a consistent, transparent approach to all negotiations between landlords and tenants. Now more than ever, professionalism matters.
One of the relevant recommendations for RICS as an Institution and its members was that DEFRA must improve the oversight of, and potentially regulate, land agents so their performance and behaviour can then be scrutinised and held to account.
Although RICS has seen no evidence of complaints against members in the rural tenanted sector, the review identified some poor behaviours and highlighted the need for more cooperation between landlords and tenants and those advising them.
RICS takes such reports seriously, and will continue to promote the need for professionalism in the sector and members' obligations to adhere to the Rules of Conduct. The Institution will also consider how to improve existing procedures for the public to make complaints about members.
'RICS will continue to promote the need for professionalism in the sector and members' obligations to adhere to the Rules of Conduct'
Another of the review's recommendations is that DEFRA should examine the appointment of a tenant farming commissioner or central ombudsman for the agricultural tenanted sector. The role would make government policy tenant-proof so there is no bias towards landlords and to ensure fairness in the sector for tenant farmers.
Part of the remit will also be to examine and strengthen dispute resolution processes in the sector. The department will shortly launch a call for evidence to explore this further, to which RICS will respond.
RICS has already supported the work of the tenant farming commissioner in Scotland and looks forward to working closely with a counterpart in England if one is appointed. The Institution is looking at what is thought to be lacking in current dispute resolution procedures, and will make changes to RICS Dispute Resolution Service (DRS) to ensure all in the sector have appropriate recourse.
Where further work is identified to build on existing initiatives, such as the RICS Simplified Arbitration Service, RICS will take that forward with our panel of rural practice arbitrators and other stakeholders as required. RICS is also currently working on a conflict avoidance procedure for the rural sector that we will publish later this year.
Another recommended power for the role of commissioner is to review and comment on arbitration decisions when arbitrators have been appointed under the Agricultural Holdings Act 1986 or Agricultural Tenancies Act 1995. RICS considers that this recommendation is problematic because it could challenge the fundamental principle that arbitrations offer a confidential means of dispute resolution.
RICS believes that the three appointing arbitral bodies – ourselves as well as the Agricultural Law Association and Central Association of Agricultural Valuers – have a responsibility to ensure that the arbitrators, and other dispute resolvers they appoint, provide a professional and effective service. RICS will review its procedures for monitoring the experience of parties who use dispute resolvers appointed by the DRS, and will resolve any issues arising.
RICS looks forward to continued engagement with the implementation of the review and the work of the forum. RICS and its members will be proactive in seeking to ensure a thriving agricultural tenanted sector in England and across the UK.
Related competencies include: Agriculture, Conflict avoidance, management and dispute resolution procedures, Landlord and tenant
On 16 November, DEFRA announced that it is inviting RICS to respond to a call for evidence on encouraging good practice in the tenant farming sector. This is also examining the potential role for a tenant farming commissioner in England. DEFRA has emphasised that this call is an important part of fulfilling its commitments in the government response to the Rock review.
Stakeholders such as individual tenants, landlords and advisers contributed their views to the review at regional events in England and through an online survey, the results of which are summarised in Baroness Rock's report.
The call for evidence complements this work. seeking evidence and views from representative organisations and trade bodies on the issues raised and examining the role of the agricultural sector and government in dealing with them. Taken together, they will inform what the sector and government do next.
DEFRA is particularly interested in your views on: