Some farmers who have been the subject of Basic Payment Scheme inspections will not receive their payments until March or April, it has emerged.
Of the 13,000 people unlikely to be paid before the end of January, the agency expects to pay commons farmers first followed by those who have been inspected and then cross border payments, with some likely to be waiting until late-March or April.
Typical of the Rural Payment’s Agency’s scant communication around BPS 2015, the information about the timing of ’late’ BPS payments came, not from the agency but from the NFU.
The NFU’s council this week expressed its ‘anger and disappointment’ over the slow progress made in delivering BPS in England, compounded by what is widely viewed as information vacuum about progress.
The RPA has finally begun to show progress towards its target of delivering the ’vast majority’ of payments by the end of January.
It delivered a further 11,300 payments totalling £320 million over the weekend, the most significant payment run since early December and a clear shift towards higher value payments after the agency focused on smaller, simple claims to meet its December target.
Around 57,700 farmers, about two thirds of the 87,000 eligible farmers, have now received their BPS but only 55 per cent money has been paid out - £779 million out of an estimated total fund of £1.45 billion.
Further payment runs are expected over the next two weekends as the agency looks to meet its ambiguous ’vast majority’ goal.
NFU vice president Guy Smith said there were now 13,000 farmers who had been told they were ‘unlikely to be paid by the end of January’. This down from the original figure of 15,000 and some who received letters have been paid.
This leaves 16,000 farmers, who have not received letters, to be paid by the end of January, including many of the larger claims.
Mr Smith said: “Given we have become a little sceptical as to how ‘on top’ of making payments the RPA actually are, we can but live in hope that this will be achieved over the next ten to fifteen days."
But he said of most concern were the 13,000 in the ‘letter of doom’ camp including ‘thousands of people who will have been inspected remotely so they are not aware of it’ and suggested many of these had been affected by IT problems within RPA ‘which are only being sorted out now’.
NFU senior BPS advisor Richard Wordsworth the agency was finally due to send letters this week to the 13,000 claimants in the late payment category, informing them when the groups within it are likely to be paid.
“We understand commons claims will start to be paid in February, working into inspections and cross-border claims possibly late March or early April,” he told the NFU council on Tuesday.
But for the NFU council this was too little, too little.
It endorsed a resolution from the South West, presented by Cornwall farmer Martin Howlett, expressing ‘anger and disappointment’ at the RPA’s performance, which not matched the agency’s rhetoric.
The resolution, a reflection of the RPA’s poor communications as much as the timing of payments, called for the agency to tell farmers when outstanding payments would be made - within a timeframe of no more than one month - so they could make alternative finance arrangements to pay bills.
Summing up the mood of council, Durham farmer Richard branded the RPA’s performance a ’national disgrace’.
Mr Smith said: "It is also becoming very clear that what is adding to the anxiety here is the fog of confusion as to when farmers will receive this money.
"Defra and it’s agencies must be more transparent and clear as to when they think this money will go out rather than hiding behind a veil of confusion.
RPA chief executive Mark Grimshaw said: “We understand the importance of BPS payments for farmers and our priority has always been to pay as many farmers as quickly as possible.
“The RPA is working seven days a week to get these payments to farmers.
“A wide range of claim sizes have been paid to small, medium and large sized enterprises across England and in all sectors of the industry and claims will continue to be paid as they are checked and completed.”
NFU vice-president Guy Smith criticised the RPA’s announcement it would not send BPS 2016 paper application forms to farmers who applied for their 2014 Single Payment online.
The agency is once again trying to encourage more applications online, while retaining a paper-based back up, for the 2016 scheme.
Mr Smith said if the RPA was going to go down this route in spring, it must make paper forms available at immediate notice to farmers unwilling or unable to apply online.