More than 40,000 Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) applicants in England, 46 per cent of claimants, paid agents an estimated £20 million to apply for their 2016 payment, an NFU survey has revealed.
This represented an increase of 10,000 and additional expenditure of £5m on the 2014 Single Payment Scheme.
The NFU responded by calling for a simpler application process and improved delivery for BPS 2017 and urged Defra to ensure the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) has the necessary resource to invest in the system and administration to achieve this.
NFU Vice President Guy Smith said: "Our survey work should serve as an important reminder to the RPA that the application forms must be within farmers’ capabilities.
"It’s essential that the guidance, navigating the system itself and the administration are user-friendly.
“The basic principle of the BPS form is that it is designed for farmers to be able to complete it themselves. The fact that it has been so complex has forced many farmers to hand the form over to specialists to complete and this is unacceptable."
The NFU also estimates there are over 20,000 queries relating to mapping, field data, coding and entitlements outstanding from BPS 2015. An estimated £60m has not gone out this year because of application issues, Mr Smith said.
Mr Smith said: "Our demand of Government is to make sure the RPA have the necessary resource to sort these issues out quickly and competently. This is yet more cost on our industry at a time it can ill afford it.”
The RPA said it would investigate all claim queries through a planned payment reconciliation process once the 2016 application window closes.
Farmers who believe their payment is not correct should write into the agency so it can investigate, make any necessary adjustments and top up payments, rather than clawing back from farmers at a later date, as used to be the process.
The planned reconciliation process will involve looking at individual applications and investigating any differences in land and entitlements held.
This process begins in June and will last a number of months.
The agency said the new Rural Payments service had been designed to increase the accuracy of payments by automatically carrying out more in-depth checks than the previous system.
"By making use of satellite data, aerial photography and digital maps, we are now able to check the land being claimed under BPS matches the information held on the system," an agency spokesperson said.
"Where there is discrepancy between a claim and the information held by Rural Payments, only the amount of the claim that matches is paid out.
"Rural Payments also differs from its predecessor, the Single Payment Scheme with new requirements such as greening. That is why, this year, some farmers may see differences in their payments from last year."
In a statement, the RPS said it provided farmers and agents with an extensive range of support to help over 85,500 of them make their 2016 applications on time.
This included phone help, support centres around the country, hints and tips and well-used YouTube videos. The result was the highest proportion of claims submitted online in any one year – over 80 per cent.
Farmers are reminded midnight Friday June 10, is the final deadline for 2016 BPS applications.