Agricultural Occupancy Condition

edited 30 November -1 at 1:00AM in House Buying, Renting & Selling
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  • It's quite possible to buy a property with an AOC if, say, one partner works in agriculture e.g. a farm worker in the area and the other happens to "work in the City". The City worker could get the mortgage on his/her income and the partner, the farm worker, would satisfy the AOC.
    Whilst I normally agree with your excellent advice, I have to disagree this time! My authority takes the view that the primary income of the main breadwinner has to come from agriculture - precisely to prevent what you describe happening! I recently dealt with an enquiry from a lady who wanted to live at such a dwelling and keep some animals - however her husband worked in the city, and was clearly the main breadwinner. We apply the agricultural occupancy condition only to the main breadwinner - so in essence she could live in the cottage, but her husband couldn't, which obviously put her off. It would be too easy for someone to abuse the restriction if it wasn't applied to the main breadwinner.
    To satisfy the AOC, I believe the person has to work in agriculture (or forestry) within a certain radius of the property (three miles, springs to mind).
    Very true - the older conditions state that someone needs to be employed mainly in agriculture within 3 miles - however, such a restrictive condition is no longer attached to any new permissions for agricultural dwellings - instead, it is restricted to someone "working in the locality in agriculture". So, if a property was subject to the older, 3-mile condition, nobody would have a problem applying to the Council to have this varied and replaced with the newer version.
  • One final thing ... properties with an AOC tend to be fairly modest with limited potential for development. Typically, the dimensions are that of a "farm worker's cottage" rather than a "manor"!! So you may well get the land, but the property is likely to be of a modest size.
    Quite often true, but surprisingly some can be pretty large - I dealt with one that was valued at £1.4 million (obviously quite large!) - and although it was originally permitted as an agricultural workers cottage, it had been considerably extended, and in close proximity to London, was worth quite a bit! Even though the owners had marketed it with a discount of 30%, it was still valued at almost a million, and there are several examples of appeals where Inspectors have concluded that the dwelling is simply too large and expensive (even with a discount) to invite offers from agricultural workers or retired farmers. These appeals have often been allowed, so in this case we took that view and allowed the lifting of the condition, as we couldn't see ourselves winning an appeal!
  • poppysarahpoppysarah Forumite
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    Can they do that? Tell them it's too expensive? What sort of income could you get off 15 acres? Certainly not enough for a mortgage on a 500k place.
  • Debt_Free_ChickDebt_Free_Chick Forumite
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    Whilst I normally agree with your excellent advice, I have to disagree this time! My authority takes the view that the primary income of the main breadwinner has to come from agriculture - precisely to prevent what you describe happening! I recently dealt with an enquiry from a lady who wanted to live at such a dwelling and keep some animals - however her husband worked in the city, and was clearly the main breadwinner. We apply the agricultural occupancy condition only to the main breadwinner - so in essence she could live in the cottage, but her husband couldn't, which obviously put her off. It would be too easy for someone to abuse the restriction if it wasn't applied to the main breadwinner.

    I can see in your example that they wouldn't qualify, as neither of them is actually working in agriculture - and "keeping some animals" wouldn't qualify. We certainly have instances in our Parish where one partner works in agriculture (typically, male) and the other partner doesn't - but they've bought properties with AOCs. Perhaps - as you say - it depends how each authority tests the AOC. Here in Rother (Sussex) it seems to be that at least one of the owners must work in agriculture :confused: To be honest, many agricultural workers would struggle to buy any property, as the average income is around £15k pa ! :eek:
    Warning ..... I'm a peri-menopausal axe-wielding maniac ;)
  • Richard_WebsterRichard_Webster Forumite
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    Good that some have been able to get mortgages.

    This was not the case with a property I was involved with recently, which was not anywhere near my office (Hampshire) by the way. That only had 8 acres so was even less potentially viable than OP's case, and as you could buy a 3 bed ex-Council semi in the village in question for 1/3rd of what we sold the "farm" for, it wasn't going to be attractive for an agricultural worker's house.

    I would be interested to hear from Planning_Officer the extent to which they carry out regular checks on all properties with agricultural conditions to ensure compliance. If they do, they will obviously find out, but if they only investigate where there is some reason to be suspicious, then keeping a few sheep etc would tend to divert their attention, and avoid a conscious decision to investigate a particular property.
    RICHARD WEBSTER

    As a retired conveyancing solicitor I believe the information given in the post to be useful assuming any properties concerned are in England/Wales but I accept no liability for it.
  • Debt_Free_ChickDebt_Free_Chick Forumite
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    I would be interested to hear from Planning_Officer the extent to which they carry out regular checks on all properties with agricultural conditions to ensure compliance. If they do, they will obviously find out, but if they only investigate where there is some reason to be suspicious, then keeping a few sheep etc would tend to divert their attention, and avoid a conscious decision to investigate a particular property.

    As I understand it, it's only done at the time of the conveyance. The agricultural worker can buy a property and then give up their job - they will still be allowed to own/stay in the property, as their "last job" was in agricultural. Without this relaxation, all AOC properties would be forced sales if the owner(s) ceased to work in agriculture. Edit: Sorry - I'm not so sure about this one. I think it's possible that enforcement action could be taken, but I've not heard of it. Certainly, there are cases where the AOC has not been complied with, locally, but no sales have been forced. Perhaps Planning Officer could confirm this point. I understand that there are now more properties with AOCs than there are agricultural workers, so there must be many AOC properties that no longer comply!

    There's a slight inaccuracy creeping in to some posts ...... the agricultural work does not need to be undertaken on the land in which the property sits. It can be any agricultural work "locally". There are many agricultural contractors who undertake seasonal work on a number of different farms e.g. offer a combining/baling service to local farms. Such a person would probably qualify to buy a property with an AOC even though that property only has a garden. A property with an AOC is often a normal house, not necessarily a property with agricultural land attached. Typically, these were cottages on a farm and let out to those who worked for the farmer (in the good old days!!!). More often than not, the farm has gone, but the cottage remains with the AOC in place.

    Conversely, there are many properties on agricultural land that are not restricted by an AOC - so "anyone" can buy a "farm", but they're not required to work it!

    It was originally a way of ensuring that affordable properties remained available to farm workers, who are amongst the lowest paid in the Country. By restricting the buyers' market, the property should fall "into the right hands". Sadly, the recent housing bubble and decline in agriculture has put paid to that, so many are now completely out of reach to agricultural workers.
    Warning ..... I'm a peri-menopausal axe-wielding maniac ;)
  • I would be interested to hear from Planning_Officer the extent to which they carry out regular checks on all properties with agricultural conditions to ensure compliance. If they do, they will obviously find out, but if they only investigate where there is some reason to be suspicious, then keeping a few sheep etc would tend to divert their attention, and avoid a conscious decision to investigate a particular property.
    Hi Richard, sorry for late reply! To be honest, we don't make regular checks, although in most cases the parish councils in particular are very good in our district about reporting people who don't comply - for example, they tend to monitor house sales where they know AOC's are in force, and are pretty quick to report anyone they suspect is not complying. In any case where we get complaints or suspicions raised, we tend to send out a Planning Contravention Notice, which as I'm sure you know, requires the occupier to answer any questions posed truthfully (otherwise it's a criminal offence), for example confirming what their occupation is and what field their main income comes from.

    Undoubtedly some properties are lived in by people who don't comply with the AOC, and we deal with the occasional Certificate of Lawfulness for an existing use where the property has been lived in for 10 consecutive years without complying with the condition - obviously, if the owner can show that, the Certificate is granted and the property then is in effect an 'open market' dwelling with no AOC to comply with.

    Like I said before, we only apply the AOC to the main breadwinner - my previous example wasn't very good (as Debt Free Chick points out!) - I didn't mean the person involved was only keeping a few animals (although that's what I wrote!) - I meant she would actually be working in agriculture, using the land as a smallholding. But as her husband was the main breadwinner working in the city, they wouldn't comply with the AOC.
    As I understand it, it's only done at the time of the conveyance. The agricultural worker can buy a property and then give up their job - they will still be allowed to own/stay in the property, as their "last job" was in agricultural. Without this relaxation, all AOC properties would be forced sales if the owner(s) ceased to work in agriculture. Edit: Sorry - I'm not so sure about this one. I think it's possible that enforcement action could be taken, but I've not heard of it. Certainly, there are cases where the AOC has not been complied with, locally, but no sales have been forced. Perhaps Planning Officer could confirm this point.
    True, the standard AOC states that the person must be working in the locality in agriculture or last employed in the locality in agriculture. So, in theory, someone could buy such a property and then stay there if they gave up their job. But if they then took up alternative employment, they would not comply with the AOC and have to move (or apply to have it lifted). I think they would have to have been working in agriculture for a while before buying the property, rather than just a token agricultural job for a couple of months, otherwise we would probably take the view that it wasn't a genuine agricultural worker. Not sure if there's any case law on that point though! Properties with AOCs are also therefore suitable for retired farmers, as their last job was in agriculture - and I've seen a few appeal decisions where the properties were unusually large for agricultural workers dwellings, and the Appeal Inspectors have commented that they may be suitable for, and within the price range of, retired farmers.
  • DavesnaveDavesnave Forumite
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    The key words in the AOC are 'in the locality.' In our area there are very few agriculturally tied properties. If they existed, we'd probably qualify, as we ran an 'agricultural' business for 11 years before closing it in order to re-locate. In our target areas, there are several Ag-tied properties on the market, but we'd only qualify to live in them if we resurrected the old business which, because of their location, would probably fail!

    We've still toyed with the notion of buying Ag-tied though, as in 5 years I can draw my state pension and, meanwhile, the £100k we'd save could keep us afloat. We enjoy what we do, so the thought of running a fairly unprofitable business wouldn't worry us. It takes at least 5 years for HMRC to decide that you're running what they call a 'hobby farm,' so as long as we made a bit of profit by year 5, we should survive, especially with diversification into holiday letting etc.

    As to whether anyone can make a living on 15 acres; it depends entirely upon what you do with it and where it is. We can make a living from one acre, if it's in the right place.

    Planning Officer is dead right; local busybodies, parish council or otherwise, will soon nail you if you think running a few sheep will qualify you to hold an Ag-tied dwelling.
    People who don't stand for something will fall for anything.
  • Just to update on this thread, for anyone that cares... lol... my advice above is wrong. From recent conversations I've been having at work with our planning solicitors, it appears that provided one partner works in the locality in agriculture, a couple can live in a property with an AOC attached to it, even if the partner earns a greater living from a non-agricultural job. There's an important appeal decision which was taken to the High Court which confirms this and provides the relevant case law for similar examples. Apologies!
  • Debt_Free_ChickDebt_Free_Chick Forumite
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    Just to update on this thread, for anyone that cares... lol... my advice above is wrong. From recent conversations I've been having at work with our planning solicitors, it appears that provided one partner works in the locality in agriculture, a couple can live in a property with an AOC attached to it, even if the partner earns a greater living from a non-agricultural job. There's an important appeal decision which was taken to the High Court which confirms this and provides the relevant case law for similar examples. Apologies!

    Thanks for clarifying that as this is the approach that my LA takes (Rother, East Sussex), where we have loads of AOC property. I was keeping my head down in case they were wrong and I have at least two neighbours in exactly this position! So it's good to have the confirmation.

    Thanks PO :T
    Warning ..... I'm a peri-menopausal axe-wielding maniac ;)
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