The legislation governing the housing of agricultural workers in Wales is due to change significantly with the implementation of the Renting Homes (Wales) Act 2016 (RHWA) on 1 December 2022.
The current protections enjoyed by existing assured agricultural occupiers will be maintained.
On 1 December 2022 all existing assured agricultural occupancies (AAOs) will convert to standard occupation contracts under the RHWA provided:
Assured agricultural occupancies will be treated the same way as assured tenancies, meaning that they will convert and become subject to the RHWA provisions, but the security of tenure currently enjoyed by assured agricultural occupiers will endure. Landlords will not have the ability to serve a no-fault s.173 notice under the RHWA. Schedule 12 of the RHWA effectively maintains the existing Housing Act 1988 Schedule 2 possession grounds.
After 1 December 2022 it will not be possible to create any new AAOs in Wales. Nor will there be any specific rights or form of contract granted to agricultural workers under the RHWA.
The RHWA will apply to arrangements granted to agricultural workers in the same way as it applies to all contracts relating to residential dwellings. All new tenancies or licences entered into after 1 December 2022 will be standard occupation contracts provided the arrangement satisfies the RHWA ‘Section 7’ test.
Contract-holders will benefit from a 6 minimum month notice period for no-fault evictions, and there will be a restriction on serving any such no-fault notice within the first six months of occupation. No additional rights or protections will be enjoyed by agricultural workers.
Schedule 2 of RHWA confirms that occupiers protected under the Rent (Agriculture) Act 1976 will not be affected by the RHWA. Their occupation will continue to be governed by the previous regime.
As ever, care should therefore be taken before any notices are served on agricultural workers if they have been occupying a dwelling for a long time, to check whether their occupation started before 15 January 1989. If it did, they remain subject to the Rent (Agriculture) Act 1976.
Service occupiers (i.e. employees who are required to occupy the dwelling as part of their employment contract for the better performance of their duties) will fall within the RHWA, unless their occupation contract does not satisfy the section 7 test.
Service occupiers have historically been given a licence to occupy the dwelling only for so long as they are employed by the employer.
Under RHWA termination will not be automatic or immediate when the employment contract ends, but Schedules 8A, 9B, 9C give landlords the ability to terminate standard contracts relating to service occupiers (both periodic and fixed term) on two months’ written notice. There is also no prohibition on serving notice within the first six months of occupation.
These provisions will apply to converted and new occupation contracts.
Those employing agricultural workers in Wales or making accommodation available to them will no longer need to consider the ‘agricultural worker’ angle when entering into new arrangements. The risk of inadvertently granting a form of secure ‘assured’ tenancy to agricultural workers will no longer arise.
It is perhaps surprising that the RHWA, which aims to improve occupier’s rights and protections, reduces the security of tenure available to this specific type of occupier. The change in approach means that the historic protection afforded to agricultural workers, which did not extend to any other employee, will no longer exist in Wales.
Indeed, it is anticipated that in many cases, agricultural workers will now be classed as service occupiers. As a result, they will be granted less security of tenure than standard contract-holders and will enjoy very significantly less security than those who held assured agricultural occupancies on 1 December 2022, and their English counterparts.
For further Information on the RHWA see: Welsh residential tenancy reform: How will new lettings operate? and Welsh residential tenancy reform: How will it affect existing tenancies and licences?
In addition, Senedd Cymru / the Welsh Government has a dedicated landing page (Renting Homes: housing law is changing) containing links to various guidance notes, standard form documents, prescribed form notices and the relevant legislation.
For more information, please contact Josie Edwards.