Tenant Farming Commissioner most effective behind the scenes

Hamish Lean, Head of Rural Property and Business, outlines the powers and efficacy of the Tenant Farming Commissioner (TFC).

1 October 2020

The Tenant Farming Commissioner (TFC), Bob McIntosh, recently published a summary of his activities since first being appointed in 2017. He is a member of the Scottish Land Commission, which was established by the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2016. 

The TFC has published a number of codes of practice regulating the conduct of agricultural landlords and tenants. The codes of practice are quite varied in nature. They include codes of practice about what to do when a limited partnership comes to an end, what to do about maintenance of fixed equipment on the farm, what to do about late payment of rent, what to do about managing sporting rights and so on. 

The TFC has the power to investigate a complaint by a landlord or tenant that the other side have breached a code of practice. He also has the power to impose a fine on someone who doesn’t cooperate with an investigation. He does not however have the power to impose a penalty if he finds that someone has been in breach of a particular code. The sanction is the court of public opinion because any decision that a party has been in breach will be publicised, much to the possible embarrassment of the person found to be in breach. 

Interestingly enough, he had received only three formal complaints in the year to August 2020. Of those three complaints, one related to the code on late payment of rent, one related to the code on the maintenance of the condition of tenanted agricultural holdings and the third did not directly relate to a code. The TFC is only entitled to investigate an alleged breach of a code and therefore that third complaint had to be dismissed. The other two complaints related to behaviour before either of the codes had been published so he was unable to proceed with those complaints either. 

However, the TFC did report that he received on average about nine or ten new contacts every month, with a peak each autumn. These are from landlords, tenants and their agents on various aspects of agricultural tenancies. I suspect that this is where Bob McIntosh is most effective, not acting in a quasi-judicial role investigating complaints but giving informal advice behind the scenes and pouring oil on troubled waters. 

This article first appeared in The Press and Journal on 26 September 2020.