The Rural Payments Agency (RPA) is urging farmers in England to ensure they get their 2016 Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) applications in by the May 16 deadline, even if they have not yet received full 2015 payments.
Defra has indicated it has no intention of extending the deadline despite industry calls to do so.
EU Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan was set table draft legislation this week enabling member states to apply for a one-month extension until 16 June to the BPS deadline.
Following a meeting the RPA’s senior stakeholder group on Tuesday, the Tenant Farmers Association (TFA) has written to Farming Minister George Eustice for a second time requesting Defra takes up the option of an extension.
TFA chief executive George Dunn said the meeting highlighted the ‘confluence’ of ongoing problems with 2015 claims and the looming 2016 deadline.
He said and the advice applicants should ‘make as good as stab as possible’ at applications before May 16 and then use the statutory adjustment period to the end of May to make any required amendments was ‘an unsatisfactory situation’
Mr Dunn said: “Clearly more time is necessary to allow sensible applications to be submitted on time.”
But, with 62 per cent of anticipated 2016 applications already submitted or in progress, a Defra spokesperson made it clear the Department has little intention of extending the deadline.
“English farmers are on track to get their 2016 applications in on time and there are no plans to change the deadline as this could lead to unnecessary delays in payments being made.”
"We urge everyone to complete their application as soon as possible.”
Defra will support the proposed extension to the 2016 BPS application window at EU level to allow other member states to push back application dates, however.
The NFU is not pushing for an extension of the deadline.
NFU senior BPS adviser Richard Wordsworth said: “At this time the NFU sees more disadvantages of extending the deadline than advantages.
"We need the RPA to deliver on its promises of at least 90 per cent 2016 payments made in less than six months’ time."
The RPA has confirmed all eligible claimants in England have now been paid.
But one of the big concerns around BPS in England is the risk for farmers trying to complete 2016 applications while still waiting for their 2015 balance or having an outstanding queries on 2015 claims.
They fear they could be penalised if they submit 2016 claims with incorrect information through no fault of their own.
The RPA is urging ‘everyone to complete their application as soon as possible’, even if they are waiting for the balance of their 2015 payment or still have an outstanding query on 2015.
The RPA will investigate any payment differences and make adjustments over the summer, through its ‘routine reconciliation’ process. An agency spokesperson said: "As in previous years, any farmers with concerns about their BPS 2015 payment or claim details held by RPA should write or email.
"All 2016 claims will be automatically updated with any verified changes in 2015 claims."
"It is also promising flexibility, where possible, where there are mistakes on forms. The spokesperson said: “Where there is flexibility under the scheme rules, the agency will use it for 2016 claims."
"Thanks to all the year-one groundwork setting up the new system, including establishing scheme requirements and claimant data, 2016 claims can be processed and paid earlier in the payment window."
May 6 – last day to email RPA to ask for land parcels to be added to online claims
May 16 (midnight) – deadline to submit 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.
RPA chief executive Mark Grimshaw said: “We know that BPS money is hugely important to farmers so we want to give everyone all the help they need to make their 2016 claim on time.
That is why we’re geared up to help with extensive support available online at GOV.UK, over the phone and in person.
“Our helpline people are working seven days a week answering calls and 14 support centres are available to help people claim online. People can drop-in during the week and we have plenty of appointments left for weekend visits.
“We are urging people to apply using the Rural Payments service, but I want to reassure farmers that there is a paper option for those who need it.
“The level of applications submitted or in progress means we are on track, with figures to date matching this stage in previous years.
But we are never complacent and hundreds of RPA people are standing by to help farmers get their applications done and in on time.”
For advice on how to apply for BPS 2016, including guidance, ’hints and tips’ documents and videos and details of 14 online support centres, see www.gov.uk/guidance/bps-2016
The NFU Scotland leadership was this week weighing up whether to call for an extension to the 2016 Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) deadline after Thursday’s national elections.
NFUS is concerned that problems the SAF 2016 application process could make it difficult for many farmers to submit accurate claims by the current May 16 deadline.
The issue of an extension was discussed ‘thoroughly’ at NFUS’s presidency meeting on Monday and was due to be the top item at it board meeting this Thursday, as Scottish voters went to the polls to elect the next Government.
With no Cabinet Secretary effectively in place, NFUS would not have been in a position anyway to call for an extension until after the election.
An NFUS spokesman said on Wednesday: “What is clear from the Commissioner’s statement is that problems around flawed IT systems are persisting in other Member States.
“These few days will give us the opportunity to gather information from members and consultants around the country as to how the online application process is progressing – or not, as may be the case.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We have not yet seen the detail of the proposal and we are aware that NFU Scotland plans to discuss the issue later this week, after which we will urgently engage with Ministers and reach a decision.”
“Our online application process has generally performed well this year. We would urge farmers not to delay and to get on with making their applications.”
The Scottish Government, which expects more than 20,000 applications, has so far received just under 5000 SAF 2016 applications, including online and paper versions, ‘significantly’ more than this time last year.
The Welsh Government has received ’about half’ of expected 2016 BPS claims, 12 per cent ahead of last year).
While a spokesman said Government ’wouldn’t rule out’ an extension, it would be ’unlikely’, given this progress’.
The Welsh Government had delivered part payments to over 95 per cent of eligible claimants and full payments to 75 per cent by early April - 98 per cent of farmers in Wales have now received a payment.