Fourteen online support centres offering face-to-face support for Basic Payments Scheme (BPS) applications across England will be open until midnight today.
Midnight tonight marks the first key deadline for BPS applications in England and Wales. Any applications submitted after today will be subject to penalties of 1 per cent per working day until June 10.
After June 10, no further applications will be accepted.
In Scotland, the deadline has been extended by one month to June 16.
The Rural Payments Agency ((RPA) has been encouraging farmers in England to get their implications in by midnight, even if they have outstanding queries over their 2015 or 2016 claims or are waiting for the balance of their 2015 payment.
The agency said: "As in previous years, any farmers with concerns about their BPS 2015 payment or claim details held by RPA should write or email.
"The RPA will investigate any payment differences and make adjustments over the summer, through routine reconciliation.
"Where there is flexibility under the scheme rules, the agency will use it, so customers are not penalised unnecessarily for claiming on what they believe to be correct for BPS 2016."
For farmers still trying to complete their forms in England, various help and support is available, including:
Defra and RPA rejected calls, including from the Tenant Farmers Association, to extend the BPS deadline under flexibility available at EU level, arguing this would have resulted un ’unnecessary delays in payments being made’.
The agency insisted English farmers were on track to get their 2016 applications in on time, with three quarters of BPS 2016 applications having already been submitted or in progress by he middle of last week.
RPA chief executive Mark Grimshaw said: “The Rural Payments service is working and a full package of support is available for any farmer applying who wants it – online, over the telephone and in person.
“This includes help from the Rural Services helpline – which has extra opening hours at the weekend – and our network of online support centres which will also be open until midnight on deadline day.”
Some farmers remain deeply concerned the 2016 application process in England will be hampered by problems with the 2015 scheme.
NFU uplands spokesman Robin Milton said he had been contacted by a number of farmers with common land who had received what appeared to be full payments – but with no sign of commons entitlements or accompanying payment and entitlement statements.
“Anything to do with common land seems to have vanished from their claim and statements,” he said.
Mr Milton was sceptical the RPA would be able to correct these payments and called for ’penalties for any mistakes on application forms to be waived this year’.
“If RPA have no record of 2015 entitlements, how can farmers know they will be paid in 2016? My fear is 2016 will be the year of the penalty – many upland farmers and anybody with common land is going to end up with penalties by default,” he said.
May 16 (midnight) – deadline to submit BPS claims before penalties apply.
May 31 (midnight) - deadline to make changes to claims submitted before May 16 without penalties.
June 10 (midnight) - final deadline. Claims will lose 1 per cent of value for every working day claims arrives after May 16. For applications for new entitlements from the national reserve, the penalty rate will be 3 per cent.