Representatives of commons farmers have called for the Rural Payments Agency to be ’straight’ with commoners after failing to deliver on promises over the Basic Payment Scheme.
Julia Aglionby of the Foundation for Common Land warned the agency’s failings had put commons farmers, already facing a serious struggle, under ’extreme financial pressure’.
She accused agency chief executive Mark Grimshaw falsely raising commoners’ hopes over the timing of their much-needed payment.
In early March, Mr Grimshaw assured MPs the agency was on course to deliver ’pretty much all of the outstanding commons BPS payments, about 3,500, during March, except those linked to complex cases’.
This was in anticipation of the commons functionality on the RPA’s payment system ’going live’ the following week.
The payments did not materialise in March and well into April there is still no sign of them and no indication from RPA as to when they might arrive.
The agency said last week the 3,500 commons claims had ’taken longer due to the new approach this year which distributes money only between those who use the common, rather than allocating a proportion based on everyone who has a registered right.
An agency spokesperson said: "This fairer approach will mean many commoners can expect a bigger payment, but it is more complicated to get these payments right as all claims on the common have to be checked first. This issue will be much reduced in 2016."
A further 5,400 claims, which had been subject to inspection are also stuck in the system.
Dr Aglionby warned immediately after Mr Grimshaw’s comments to MPs in March his assurances about the timing of commons payments were unlikely to be delivered.
After the RPA’s latest statement, Dr Aglionby said: “Mark Grimshaw has failed to deliver on his assurances to Parliament’s Efra Committee.
"He told Efra that 3,500 commoners would be paid by the end of March but by mid April fewer than 1000 commoners have been paid. He has raised expectations among farmers who look after commons, our most designated countryside, and he has not delivered.
"Now many commoners are now under extreme financial pressure.
"We urge the RPA to be straight with commoners and as a minimum make partial payments as soon as possible and improve their systems for 2016 otherwise the people’s livelihoods and the public benefits they produce are at risk.”
NFU uplands spokesman Robin Milton has warned delays in commons payments were making it impossible for farmers to submit 2016 BPS claims with the May application deadline looming.
He said he was not aware of any commons farmers in a position to submit 2016 applications because of all the uncertainty surrounding their 2015 claims.
Mr Milton said: “Not only are they not being paid but they are also being asked to starting putting together their 2016 claim when they haven’t got knowledge of what the situation was this year.
“I fear the situation with the application process could become worse this year than it was last year because at least then they had completed 2014 SPS payments.”