Farmers in Scotland will have until June 15 to submit their Single Application Forms (SAF), after the Scottish Government accepted NFU Scotland’s request for a one-month extension.
Following last week’s Scottish election, which saw the SNP comfortably remain as the main party with 63 seats, albeit not quite enough to retain its overall majority, the Government quickly confirmed it would make use of this flexibility offered by the European Commission to extend the application window by a month.
It insisted the Rural Payments and Services online application system ‘continues to operate well’ despite vocal criticism of the system by NFUS.
As of May 9, 8,758 SAFs had been submitted out of the 21,000 the Scottish Government expects to receive.
It said there was ‘nothing to delay submission for the vast majority’ of applicants but acknowledged about 1,300 farmers who were subject to land inspections for 2015 claims had not yet been provided with fully updated mapping data on which to base their 2016 claim.
England and Wales have both rejected the option of extending the application window and the Scottish Government admitted the move would have an impact on delivering its 2016 schemes.
It is encouraging ‘all those who can to submit their SAFs as soon as possible, and not to delay just because of the extension’ as the earlier forms are submitted, the earlier it can begin processing claims.
The Government also warned farmers the normal period after the mid-May deadline during which SAFs can be amended without penalty would not be available this year.
This means SAFs submitted late and amended after June 15 may be subject to EU penalties.
NFUS president Allan Bowie welcomed the recognition that additional time must be allowed for applications.
He said: “While many of our members will have already submitted their claim we could not have allowed a situation to develop where many members could not submit a form because of mapping issues.
“We would encourage all members who have all the necessary information to complete their applications to press ahead and complete this application process as soon as possible.”
He said NFUS had sought assurances extending the application deadline would have no implications for the timing of payments and insisted lessons must be learned from the ’delays and payment debacle of the 2015 scheme’.
SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon is expected to name her new Cabinet next week after being confirmed as Scotland’s First Minister.
The industry will wait to see whether Richard Lochhead will retain his Rural Affairs post after coming under huge pressure over his role in the farm payment crisis.
Mr Bowie said delivering ‘all outstanding payments to all farmers’ must be a ‘clear priority’ for the new administration, which he also called on to set a time frame for when payments will be delivered in the future.