Connecting the farmhouse: the challenges of technology in rural areas

When you live in a rural community, it’s not always possible to access the services city-dwellers take for granted, writes Emma Woods.

If you’re based in a big town or city, you tend to take access to the internet for granted. It’s one of those services that you expect to find alongside water, gas, electricity and other utilities.

Travel out into the rural heartlands and you’ll see a rather different picture though.

In farming country, some of the properties are just too remote for BT (which has a near monopoly on the installation of fibre connections around the UK) to view as financially viable. Taking a cable to a farmhouse a mile or more from the nearest road seems to be a step too far. In fact, communications regulator OFCOM noted in December 2016 that nearly a million rural properties didn’t have decent broadband connections.

There are a number of proposed solutions to this problem, including opening up the market to small providers and offering vouchers to residents, who may ‘club together’ to select the service which is most cost effective.

In the meantime though, there is a real issue for farmers, in that HMRC assumes that everyone will be filing returns online as part of the government’s Making Tax Digital strategy.

The days of an old-style paper-and-pen VAT return and a paper cashbook are now numbered. We live in a world of cloud-based accounting, but it presupposes access to the web. A flaky 3G signal on a mobile isn’t really a practical or reliable option and dongle-based access is highly expensive.

As farms pass between the generations, more and more of our clients are committed to the idea of online accounting, but are frustrated by the broadband service available to them.

In the short term, the best option may be a quarterly meeting with your accountant. Inevitably, there would be a cost implication, but your professional adviser is likely to be based in a town and have high-speed web access. There may, of course, be an advantage to these more regular get-togethers. You can use them as an opportunity to ask questions and seek advice, while your accountant can keep a closer eye on the state of your finances in real time.