Social care charge policy on crofts set to return to Comhairle nan Eilean Siar chamber

The SNP group of councillors on Comhairle nan Eilean Siar has published a list of detailed legal and statistical questions it intends to raise at the next meeting of the full council, as part of its attempt to overturn the Comhairle’s long-standing policy on the inclusion of crofts in the assessment of social care charges. 

By Peter Urpeth, Local Democracy Reporter
Monday, 17th August 2020, 12:41 pm
An attempt is being made to overturn the Comhairle’s long-standing policy on the inclusion of crofts in the assessment of social care charges.
An attempt is being made to overturn the Comhairle’s long-standing policy on the inclusion of crofts in the assessment of social care charges.

Earlier this year Comhairle nan Eilean Siar obtained legal opinion from a QC on the matter after the policy was suspended at a special meeting of the Comhairle.

The QC’s opinion concluded that the authority had a legal duty to take croft tenancies into consideration when assessing social care charges, backing the long-standing policy of the authority, which was subsequently reinstated.

The SNP group’s questions now raise issues including the impact of the policy on heritable crofting tenure, the legal position of permanent improvements to crofts with regard to the policy, and Comhairle policy on the sale of crofts as part of the settlement of social care charge liabilities.

Sign up to our daily Stornoway Gazette Today newsletter

The Scottish Crofting Federation (SCF) last week called on the Scottish Government to give ‘clear guidance’ to local authorities on the inclusion of crofts in the assessment of social care charges. 

A spokesperson for the SCF said that the organisation “recognises the strength of feeling around the sale of croft assets to pay for social care costs”, and called for the Scottish Government “to give clear guidance to local authorities on how they should approach the issue”.

SCF’s spokesperson added: “Comhairle representatives have been invited to the next meeting of the Cross Party Group on Crofting in September, where the issue will be discussed.

“SCF would encourage all crofters to think about succession at the earliest opportunity. Assigning crofts in good time is the most effective way of protecting the croft and thereby keeping crofting communities healthy and encouraging active crofting.”

In a statement, a Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Local authorities currently have discretion over whether to take the value of property or land into account when settling social care charges.

“The examples of capital listed in the Charging for Residential Accommodation Guidance (CRAG) are not exhaustive and are open to consideration by local authorities, to allow local flexibility in line with the priorities of communities.”

But a spokesperson for the Comhairle then dismissed the Scottish Government’s statement saying: “That is not an accurate description of the law”.  

Cllr Gordon Murray, leader of the Comhairle’s SNP group said: “The Scottish Government position has not changed and they have confirmed again that it is up to the local authority to use discretion and to allow flexibility in line with the priorities of the community.

“The view of the Comhairle SNP Group is that the practice of taking croft tenancies of families to pay for care must stop. We have the most crofts of any authority and need to that safeguard crofting and its future – this practice puts the very future of crofting at risk.”

Cllr Murray concluded: “We have tabled a number of questions about this issue to the council convenor and chair of sustainable development and look forward to their responses”.

The Comhairle’s spokesperson also confirmed that the SNP group’s questions would be on the agenda at the September meeting of the full council.