It has not been a good week. It started with storms and power cuts but ended with the much more difficult challenge, that of a bureaucratic brick wall. It turns out that we are not crofters after all, so I am not sure what we have been doing for the last 7 years.
There are just over 18,000 crofts in Scotland, a legal designation that brings them under crofting legislation, which is unique to Scotland, and complex. The legal apparatus dates back to 1886 with the most recent legislation enacted in 2011. The whole thing is overseen by the Crofting Commission, based in Inverness, which has an annual cost of £2.5m.
Simplifying hugely, the aim is to ensure that crofts are worked (though most are not in any way), but an assumption is that the ideal is for each croft to have a landlord and a tenant paying annual rent. The tenant has some protections under the legislation. However since 1976 tenants have had the right to buy so that we now have crofts that have different statuses. In particular where the landlord works the croft - because he lives on the croft then he can be designated as either a landlord of a vacant croft (because there is no tenant) or as an Owner Occupier. The nuance is important because in theory a Landlord of a Vacant Croft could be required to find a tenant - something which the Crofting Commission can enforce whereas an Owner Occupier carries no such risk, and as such is clearly the preferred status.
When we bought the croft from the previous owner its status was that Landlord of a Vacant Croft. We applied to have the status changed in April 2008 to that of Owner Occupier and got agreement from the Crofters Commission (as it then was before morphing into the Crofting Commission) to that change. Unfortunately administrative oversight meant that they did not update their records and they are now refusing to act on their own previous decision which is quite extraordinary - the letter of confirmation is apparently not worth the paper it is printed on. So we remain Landlords of a Vacant Croft and all the uncertainty that creates. We have consulted lawyers and fear that we may have to go to the Scottish Land Court. This small plot of land is proving expensive.
A complex legal system, arbitrarily enforced is something that I never thought we see in Britain.