Last month we saw the abolition of the Agricultural Wages Board in England. This month we have seen the demise of the seven agricultural land tribunals in England, specialist bodies known to few outside the farming community. Agricultural land tribunals have been a one-stop shop for a various landlord/tenant and land drainage disputes for over 50 years.
But in contrast with what has happened with the Ag Wages Board, the functions of the ALTs are not being abolished. They have simply been transferred to a new umbrella tribunal, the snappily-named First-tier Tribunal (Property Chamber).
Below is a short Q&A.
Why the changes?
The plan to rationalise the tribunal system dates back to the last government. Rather than have lots of different, specialist tribunals operating under different rules and with different administrative systems across different regions, it was decided that bringing them together into a single umbrella tribunal would make for a more unified approach to dealing with applications. There should be scope for efficiencies too.
As part of the grand plan, and quite late to the party, a number of property tribunals (including leasehold valuation tribunals, rent assessment committees, agricultural land tribunals and the adjudicator to the Land Registry) have torn up their name badges and re-emerged as the Property Chamber of the First-tier Tribunal. Other ‘chambers’ (e.g. the tax chamber) are already up and running.
Does the First-tier Tribunal (Property Chamber) hear everything the Agricultural Land Tribunal used to hear?
Yes, the same matters can be brought to the new tribunal.
The main ones are applications under the Agricultural Holdings Act 1986 by:-
• close relatives of a deceased or retiring tenant to succeed to the tenancy;
• landlords for consent to a notice to quit served on the tenant;
• landlords for a certificate of bad husbandry;
• tenants for approval to carry out long-term improvements on the holding;
• tenants for a direction to the landlord to provide fixed equipment.
It is also possible to apply under the Land Drainage Act 1990 for a direction to carry out drainage work.
What about pending applications?
The aim is to have as seamless as possible a transtion from the old regime to the new. So, all pending proceedings will continue as proceedings before the First-tier Tribunal. Any case which was in the process of being referred to the an old ALT on 1 July will be referred to the new body.
Who will hear my application?
As before, the tribunal will include a chairman and two lay members appointed by the chairman. The other members will have experience in land drainage, farming and the ownership or management of agricultural land.
Are fees payable when I apply to the tribunal?
The basic position is that if fees were payable before the change, they are payable following it. For agricultural and land drainage matters, there are no fees for applications.
What is the costs position if I win or lose?
The general rule in agricultural and drainage cases is that parties pay their own costs. But the tribunal does have the discretion to order parties to pay costs if they have acted unreasonably in bringing, defending or conducting proceedings or have failed to comply with tribunal directions.
Where will hearings be held?
They will be held as close as possible to the land concerned, using local courts or meeting venues such as hotels.
If I want to appeal the decision of the new tribunal, where do I appeal to?
Appeals can be made to the Upper Tribunal (Lands Chamber) with permission from the First-tier Tribunal. Previously appeals from the ALT were to the High Court (on a point of law only).
Are the forms the same?
The forms have been updated to take into account the changes and can be found here, on the Ministry of Justice website.
If you are involved in making or defending an application and would like advice about how to proceed, please contact Alan Plummer or Caroline Gumbrell in the first instance.