Crofting

Crofting is often referred to as a small area of land surrounded by legislation and this is as true today as it was when the Crofters Holdings (Scotland) Act 1886 was passed.
It gave crofters the right to a reasonable rent. Crofters were entitled by law to pass their croft on to their families. If the crofter decided to give up the tenancy of his croft, the Act also stated that he would have to be paid for any improvements made to the croft. It also set up a Crofters Commission a fore runner of the modern organisation.

The present day Crofters Commission was set up in 1955. The new Crofters (Scotland) Act 1993 is tasked with overseeing crofting legislation and developing crofting. By advising the Scottish Ministers they seek to ensure the Government is aware of issues relating to or concerning crofting.

What is a crofter? A crofter is normally the tenant of a croft, and pays rent to the landlord of the croft. Many Crofts have now been purchased and these crofters are also the landlords of the purchased areas - Most common grazings shares are not purchased and a rent is normally still paid for this entitlement.

What is a croft?A croft is a small agricultural unit situated in one of the former counties of Shetland, Orkney, Caithness, Sutherland, Ross-shire, Inverness-shire and Argyll in the North of Scotland, and held subject to the provisions of the Crofting Acts.

A landlord may have many crofts on his estate. The rent paid by the crofter, except in fairly rare circumstances, is only for the bare land of the croft, as the house and any agricultural buildings and infrastructure are provided by the crofter himself. Since 1976 it has been legally possible for a crofter to acquire title to his croft, thus becoming an owner-occupier. He is legally required to live on the croft; otherwise he will be required to himself take a tenant.

 How big is a croft?A croft can be any size from 0.50 ha upwards with some crofts over 100ha.

Common Grazings

Shares in common grazings are often attached to crofts the rights of crofters under the Crofting Acts extends also to the common grazing land some of these rights can be more valuable than the tenancies of the individual crofts. The grazings are normally administered by grazings committees who look after the management maintenance and improvement of the grazings there are statutory powers contained in the 1955 Act covering these committees. One of the most important points in this act are that grazings shares can be apportioned to the croft for the exclusive use of individual crofters, the apportionment size is dependant on the common grazings share or summing.

Many of the Common Grazings in Caithness are unregulated and have no committees this can lead to problems in gaining apportionments.

What type of land use takes place on a croft? The main product is lamb and beef, which are sold on to lowland farmers for fattening and finishing, since this is not cost-effective in the west due to climatic and soil quality constraints. Many crofts in Caithness, Easter Ross and Inverness-shire are suited to growing arable crops. Some winter keep and potatoes may be grown across the area, and crofters are increasingly diversifying into forestry, woodlands, renewable energy and tourist-related ventures.

How can I get a croft? Few croft tenancies come onto the market. Those that do are in great demand. Available tenancies are advertised in the property sections of local newspapers and on the Internet. Selling agents, Solicitors offices and estate agents handle such sales and can be approached directly to find out what might be available. A direct approach could also be made to estates within the crofting counties, as they might possibly have a vacant tenancy.

The consent of the Crofters Commission is required in any change of tenancy to a person out with the immediate family of the current tenant and their consent is also required for the re-letting directly from an estate of a vacant croft. The Commission will take into account local crofting demand and interests, and whether the proposed person intends to live on the croft and work it, and make a contribution to the local crofting community. Owner-occupied crofts can also come onto the market.

The Crofters Commission, in partnership with Local Enterprise Companies, runs Croft Entrants Schemes to help new entrants make a start in crofting. These schemes endeavour to link potential crofters with those who may be about to give up active crofting.

What would it cost?This is dependant on whether it is the assignation you are trying to purchase or if it is an owner occupied croft. The price will also be dependant on the size and quality of land on the croft, any buildings and fences and their state of repair, the location and other demand, etc.

With croft assignations The Commission has a policy of attempting to encourage prices to remain at a level which is accessible to the many young local residents of the crofting counties who might hope to obtain a croft.

What are the Crofting Acts? The first crofting act was passed in 1886 to give security of tenure to crofters, protecting them from further forced removal from the land. There have been a number of subsequent pieces of legislation, and all have been amalgamated into the Crofters (Scotland) Act of 1993. The acts are administered by the Crofters Commission. A new Crofting Act is proposed as part of the Scottish Executive's Land Reform Programme.

Right to buy - Tenants of registered crofts gained the right to purchase their crofts following the Crofting reform (Scotland) act 1976 It was also accompanied by the right to a share in the value of croft land sold by the Landlord for development.

Separate provision was made in this act for the purchase of the site of the croft house and purchase of other parts of the croft. The price to be paid for a croft house site is the value as bare land, where the house has been provided by the landlord one half of the value of the house site is attributable to the value of the house. As a house site with a reasonable area of garden ground will seldom extend to as much as half an acre the price will usually be less than £100 if the crofter provided the house. Because such a price is likely to be less than the expense of conveyancing, the crofter will also be expected to pay the purchases expenses.

Any other part of the whole of the croft can be purchased at 15 times the current annual rent of that part. If the rent has not been reviewed for many years the landlord can is entitled to have a new fair rent fixed. Croft land sales do not have to include mineral or salmon fishing rights. Where the landlord has exercised sporting rights over the croft a lease for a period of not less than 20 years at a nominal rent may be retained by him when the croft is sold.

When a croft is resold by the crofter within five years to anyone who is not a family member, the landlord has the right to a share in the value realised if the original purchase of the croft land was authorised by the Scottish Land Court or such a right was specifically made a condition of a negotiated purchase.

Succession

A crofters security of tenure extends to their successors. They are entitled to bequeath the tenancy of the croft but such a bequest must be to one person only . A bequest outside the family requires consent of the Crofters Commission.

Expert Advice

The above points will go someway to showing how complex an issue crofting legislation can be and crofting law is a very specialised area with many pitfalls for the unwary we would advise that specialist advise is taken where required. this can be obtained from Derek Flynn of MacLeod & MacCallum 28 Queensgate Inverness.

Tel:-01463 239393 or at www.macandmac.co.uk

What is the Crofters Commission? The Commission is a government department which administers crofting. Its remit is to reorganise, develop and regulate crofting; to promote the interests of crofters; and to keep under review all matters relating to crofting.

The Crofters Commission in conjunction with SEERAD operate the Crofting Counties Grant Scheme this gives grants for improvements that can be agriculturally justified for a wide range of improvements a list of improvements is shown below with the current grant rates further details available fro the Crofters Commission and SEERAD offices.

Grant Rates

Reseeding 70% - Drainage 65% - Roads 60% - Agricultural Buildings 50% - Fencing 55% - Shelterbelts 85% - Water and Electric supply 50% - Fixed Livestock handling equipment 50% - Drystone Dyking 55%.

These grants are automatically available to tenants of registered crofts however owners of registered crofts or holdings under 33.3ha(in the crofting counties) may be eligible for grant assistance if the pass what is known as the economic status test. This is where the earnings over the previous three years are below the National average earnings for either a married couple or single person dependant on your circumstances.

Both these organisations are also involved in administering the Crofters Building grant and Loans scheme this is available to tenants of registered crofts or owners who have purchased from the landlord within the last 7 years, There are other conditions that have to be fulfilled and you should check with SEERAD or the Crofters commission on individual cases. A grant of up to £11,500 is available for a new house with loans of £17,500 available currently at 7% interest rate.

Improvement grants of up to £2,000 are also available with a loan of £10,500.

The Crofters Commission can be contacted at 4-6 Castle Wynd, Inverness.