Row as crofters are faced with council demands for sporting rate payments

The SCF says most crofters do not hold the sporting rights on the land they farm.

Local authorities in the Highlands and islands have come under fire for issuing sporting rate payment demands to crofters.

The Scottish Crofting Federation has called for a moratorium on all payment demands until the issue of local authorities issuing “inappropriate demands” for payment of rates from crofters is sorted out.

“The federation has received many communications from members who are very anxious over a demand they have received for payment, sometimes of very large amounts of money, for rates on sporting rights they do not hold,” said SCF chairman Russell Smith.

“The great majority of crofters are tenants and do not hold the sporting rights of the land they rent. Local authorities in the Highlands and islands should know this. There will be a tiny number of owner-occupiers who do hold sporting rights, who will be liable for rates but who can apply for Small Business Rate Relief, but most do not hold rights.”

He said many crofters had not received, or not understood that they were required to reply to, previous letters from the Valuation Board asking if they held the sporting rights on the land they occupied.

“Whatever the reason, if the crofter did not refute it, the assessor set a sporting rateable value which was passed to the local authority who then issued a demand for payment,” said Mr Smith.

“Crofters faced with a demand for payment of rates for sporting rights need to be aware that a response to the demand is still legally due even if they do not hold the rights. In most cases this is by March 1, 2018. If no action is taken by the crofter then recovery could be put in the hands of a sheriff officer. The sheriff officer will add their charges to the amount to be recovered.”

He urged crofters who do not hold the sporting rights on their crofts to contact their assessor and their local authority without delay.

“The SCF is asking all local authorities to put a moratorium on the demands with immediate effect,” said Mr Smith.

“There are very few crofters who hold sporting rights and it seems very shoddy to have issued these threatening letters wholesale instead of taking the time and trouble to identify who in fact holds these sporting rights – and is therefore liable for paying the rates.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said the decisions on billing and collection of rates are for local councils to administer.

He added: “The Scottish Government is happy to engage with the Scottish Crofting Federation and local councils on this issue.”