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Rented accommodation for agricultural workers
Agricultural workers may automatically have tenancy rights in some circumstances. Find out what an agricultural tenancy is, what rights a tenant has and how to end a tenancy.
Agricultural tenancies - what they are
An agricultural tenancy - or assured agricultural occupancy - gives agricultural workers certain rights, like protection from eviction. They are protected even if they pay a low rent or no rent at all. If a worker has this type of tenancy, the farmer can only regain possession of the property by going to court and may have to provide the tenant with alternative accommodation.
If workers have accommodation as part of their job, they may have an agricultural tenancy. Their rights depend on whether their tenancy started before or after 15 January 1989.
Agricultural tenancies are created automatically, as long as workers meet certain qualifying criteria.
Qualifying as an agricultural tenant
A worker will only have an agricultural tenancy if they meet both the 'qualifying period' and 'serving farm worker' conditions.
What is the qualifying period?
A worker must work full time (35 hours per week), or have worked for 91 weeks out of the last two years to meet the qualifying period. They will not have an agricultural tenancy if they do not complete this period.
The following absences count towards a worker's qualifying period:
- absence through illness or injury
- when fewer than 35 hours are worked in a week, with agreement from the farmer
- up to 13 weeks in unemployment or employment outside agriculture
What is a serving farm worker?
A worker falls into the category of 'serving farm worker' as long as they have met the qualifying period and are a:
- farm manager or family worker
- retired farm worker
- farm worker forced to give up work
- former farm worker who has taken other employment
- deceased farm worker's widow, widower or family member of a qualifying worker and were living with the worker when they died
They have to be employed by the farmer or by someone who has an arrangement with the farmer.
As well as meeting the qualifying period and serving farm worker criteria, the accommodation must also have been owned by the farmer (or someone who has an arrangement with the farmer to provide accommodation) at some point during the tenancy. This is the 'qualifying ownership'.
Additional rights for farm workers
Workers who do not meet both conditions may still have legal protection from eviction under other laws. If so, they can only be forced to leave (be evicted) if the farmer applies for a court order.
A farm worker may also have legal rights over agricultural land if they use it for other reasons - for example, market gardening. This will depend on how the land is used and how large the area is.
Rent and changing the agricultural tenancy
Although workers may pay little or no rent during the agricultural tenancy, the farmer can deduct money from their wages. However, this must not take their wage £1.50 below the National Minimum Wage. Any rent arrangements should be included in the tenancy agreement.
Changing rent amounts
Rent arrangements can be changed at any time, as long as both the farmer and farm worker agree. If there is not agreement, a farmer can only increase the rent yearly - unless the tenancy agreement specifies a different timescale.
Farmers must inform workers in writing before making any increase in their rent. If the tenant has lived there since before 15 January 1989 they will be entitled to a fair rent, which can only be increased every two years.
Changing the tenancy
If the letting period ends (for example, if the employment contract ends) and a worker still lives in the property, the tenancy becomes a statutory periodic tenancy. If this change happens, a farmer can ask the tenant to start paying rent, or pay a higher rent than before.
If the farmer and farm worker cannot agree an amount, they can refer the increase to a rent assessment committee to determine a market rent. If the tenant has lived there since before 15 January 1989, either the landlord or tenant can apply to the rent officer to fix a fair rent for the property.
Ending an agricultural tenancy
Farmers may want to end a letting because they want the property back or because the tenant is:
- not paying the rent
- breaking terms of the tenancy agreement
- damaging the property or its contents
- being a nuisance to neighbours
Ending an agricultural tenancy follows many of the same procedures as ending a residential tenancy. However, while the tenant continues to fulfil the agricultural worker condition, they have additional protection. The farmer may have to provide them with alternative accommodation before they can regain possession of the property.
When a farm worker stops working
When a tenancy ends, a worker is still protected as long as they continue working. When the worker stops working, the farmer can apply to the courts for possession of the property, although they may have to provide the tenant with suitable alternative accommodation. If no suitable accommodation is available, the tenancy may be entitled to re-housing by the council.
The farmer can only get the property back by serving a notice for possession to the courts. There are two types of grounds for repossession:
- mandatory - the court must award possession - for example, if the property is to be sold to repay a mortgage and the landlord notified the tenant at the beginning of the tenancy that possession might be sought under this ground
- discretionary - the court will only award possession if it thinks it is reasonable to do so
If a worker dies
A worker's death does not necessarily end the tenancy, as it can automatically pass to their husband or wife. If they did not have a spouse, the letting may pass to another family member. The family member has to have lived with the worker for the two years before the worker's death.
If the farmer requires the accommodation for a new worker
If the farmer wants the property back to house a new worker, they may have to apply to the local housing authority to re-house the existing tenant if no other suitable accommodation is available. The council is obliged to do its best to provide accommodation in such circumstances.