About 26,000 farmers in England, owed a total of £600 million, are still be waiting for their Basic Payments, raising questions about whether the Rural Payments Agency can claim to have paid the ’vast majority’ of claimants by the end of January by this point.
In its latest payment run over the weekend, the agency paid a further 3,500 farmers a total of £66m.
This took the total number of farmers in England who have now been paid to 61,172, over 70 per cent of the 87,000 eligible claimants. The agency has now paid out £845m, 59 per cent of the estimated total fund of £1.43 billion.
The agency will deliver a further payment run over the weekend, which will reach farmers’ accounts by the middle of next week, into the first few days of February.
It will want RPA chief executive Mark Grimshaw’s ’vast majority’ target to be judged after that.
The agency has written to 13,000 farmers telling them it is still working on their claims and they will not be paid by the end of January.
This suggests it is expecting to pay another 13,000 farmers next week, if it is to remain on track with its aspirations.
The agency said its priority has always been ’to pay as many farmers as it can, as quickly as possible’.
RPA chief executive Mark Grimshaw said: “We understand the importance of BPS payments for farmers and the RPA is working seven days a week to meet our commitments."
The agency said payments were being made regularly, typically arriving in banks mid-week, as claims are checked and completed.
It said it was doing everything it could to pay the remaining claims as quickly as possible.
This includes contacting those who still need to register or provide information. There is currently £1.5m of payments ready to pay waiting for those farmers to either register or confirm correct bank account details.
The estimated BPS fund value will change as remaining claims are processed and claim values established.
NFU vice-president Guy Smith said the agency should be judged on its ’vast majority’ target after next week’s payment run.
He said: "They have only taken a very small step this week. We wait with bated breath to see if they can triple their output next week and hit the 80 per cent."
But the biggest concern is those 13,000 claimants who have already been told they would not be paid in January.
Those farmers, mainly subject to inspections and commons claims, as well as cross-border and ’super-complex’ claims, have been largely unimpressed with their letters.
The correspondence told them only when payments in their particular category would start, but gave no indication when they would receive the money.
Cornish farmer Martin Howlett said: "It told me nothing."
To add to the confusion, some farmers who have received their money have also been sent letters.
Commons farmers are currently being sent letters asking them to confirm commons entitlements, which they have 28 days to respond to.
Following a change in policy, all claims now have to be resolved on an individual common before the first payment can be made, suggesting some commons farmers still face a significant wait.
Natural England has now processed over 29,000 Environmental Stewardship final payments (65 per cent) worth over £220m, which is a month ahead of previous years.
Natural England is aiming to have processed all valid claims by the end of March.