Defra and the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) are facing fresh calls to fast-track Basic Payments to commons farmers in the wake of the Cumbrian floods.
With many of those located in Cumbria and Lancashire, the North West NFU had already written to Farming Minister George Eustice asking for commons payments to be speeded prior to this week’s floods.
It called on Defra and the RPA to make advance payments to affected farmers on the basis of 2015 entitlements.
Cumbrian farmer Alistair Mackintosh, the county’s delegate on NFU council, said: We wrote to George Eustice and asked him to make a manual payment on that basis.
"There is no reason why they should not be able to do that with commons farmers and some of the others not in the ‘vast majority’ category (due to be paid after January).
But, speaking before Defra announced funding for farmers hit by the Cumbrian floods, he said the need for action had become more urgent following this week’s flooding.
“Cumbria has an enormous amount of common land," Mr Mackintosh added.
"It is a double whammy. Those guys are currently looking at a huge cost of cleaning up without the Basic Payment and are not likely to receive one for a while, so there is even more reason to try and expedite those payments.”
Lancashire farmer Thomas Binns, NFU North West chairman, highlighted the frustration felt by commons farmers. “In my case the value of the commons part of my BPS is less than 2 per cent but it is holding up the whole lot,” he said.
“(RPA chief executive) Mark Grimshaw has said we probably won’t get paid before the end of January but has not said when we will be paid.
"We know we won’t get paid in the first two months but we don’t know when we are likely to be paid. It just adds to the uncertainty and we need those payments to be fast-tracked,” he said, adding that commons had not been given a ’fair crack’ by RPA when it came to processing their payments.
NFU vice president Guy Smith added a note of caution highlighting RPA chief executive Mark Grimshaw’s longstanding reluctance to resort to manual payments for fear of complicating the system.
He said: "Mark Grimshaw never likes making part payments. But I would like to see them fishing out Cumbria and Lancashire postcodes and putting more resources into getting them paid quickly.”
Country Land and Business Association president Ross Murray called on the Government to support ‘hard-pressed common land farmers’ by freeing up much needed support payments.
He said: “Common land farmers have been told that their claims are too complex to be paid at the same time as other claimants.
"We are calling on the RPA not to hold up the parts of a claim that can be calculated simply, such as the home farm. They should get on and pay these even if there is a delay in paying the more complex elements of the claim.
“Even if they do not receive their full support payment, a home farm payment will go a long way towards helping these farmers through what will undoubtedly be a very difficult Christmas and New Year.”
The RPA said it would continue to keep those customers informed about the status of their claims but stressed it remained ‘focused on making full payments’.
About 9,000 farmers in England who have been inspected could be facing delays to their Basic Payments because of IT problems at the RPA, according to NFU president Guy Smith.
The RPA has refused to confirm whether farmers who have been inspected are among the 15,000 who have been told by RPA they are unlikely to be paid by the end of January.
But Mr Smith said: “We think in the case of about 9,000 it is because they have been inspected – where it has been dome remotely they might not even know. There is not necessarily anything wrong, it is because RPA’s IT processes mean you are on the slow track.”
Mr Smith also highlighted concerns the RPA has so far delivered mainly low value livestock claims and that it is only delivered a relatively small proportion of the total fund.
While the agency paid 33,000 farmers (38 per cent of claimants) on day one of the payment window last week it only paid out £261 million, equivalent to £8,000 per farmer and an estimated 17 per cent of the total fund.
Mr Smith said: “We have always said the RPA’s much-vaunted targets (majority of payment by end of December, vast majority end of January) must apply to value and volume.
“If they make it at the end of December by volume but not value and say they have their target we will cry foul because they will not have hit that target.”