The NFU has called on the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) to ensure all farmers in England have access to paper Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) applications in 2016.
The RPA will seek to encourage more farmers to apply online for BPS 2016 by the mid-May deadline.
The 70 per cent of applicants who applied for their 2014 Single Payments online will be ’encouraged’ to go online for BPS 2016. The RPA is also offering a paper option ’for those who need it’.
The NFU welcomed the RPA’s desire to return to digital applications for BPS 2016 but raised a number of concerns in light of the well-documented problems with the BPS 2015 online application process.
It urged the agency to ’clarify the limitations of the online system and communicate these to farmers applying’ and warned farmers who apply online to be ’aware of the pitfalls to avoid wasted time’.
The union expressed concerns some aspects of the application system, such as the amendments of fields, would not be fully online for this year.
NFU Vice President Guy Smith said: “The online system’s limited capabilities need to be front and centre so farmers can make an informed choice.
"We support a paper and online combination approach but strongly believe that farmers should have the choice to do whatever works for them.
“We have been contacted by many of our members who are very keen they can return to making digital applications.
"While we fully support this progressive attitude we are adamant there should be no return to the ‘digital by default’ decision made in 2014 with no plan B paper backup.
“We have less than a month to go until BPS applications open for 2016 and, scarred by last year’s IT failure, farmers will be concerned that we haven’t seen a full working system yet.
"This must not impact farmers’ time for hitting that May 16 deadline."
With 20,000 farmers still awaiting 2015 BPS payments, he said the union would be ’pushing for these payments to go out as soon as possible’.
"Farmers can’t move on until they’ve been paid, we are ensuring the RPA know that," he said.
An RPA spokesperson said: "Our plans for BPS 2016 are being finalised and we will look to make an announcement in due course.
"We recognise the importance of different channels and we’ve already said there will be a paper option for those who need it.
"However, we do want to encourage those 70 per cent of SPS Online applicants to go online for BPS 2016 so they can benefit from the advantages that applying online brings."