Farmers have once again been complaining about the ‘bizarre’ communications from the Rural Payments Agency (RPA), as MPs demand more clarity over the timing of Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) payments.
With about 16,000 farmers in England still waiting for their BPS payment, the RPA is aiming to deliver ‘almost all’ outstanding payments by the end of this month, with a few thousand of the more complex cases would take slightly longer’ .
Many farmers were bemused, however, to receive emails on Monday (February 29) telling them they would not be paid by the end of February.
The email to claimants who had previously been told the would be paid by the end of February said: "Unfortunately we are still working on your claim and won’t be able to pay you yet.
Acknowledging this was ’frustrating news’ the email reassured farmers the RPA was ’working as hard as we can to pay you as quickly as possible’. It said the agency was still checking details about the claimants land and mapping details.
It concluded: "While we cannot be specific about your payment we are aiming to pay you by the end of March. If we aren’t able to pay you by the end of March we’ll contact you again towards the end of the month."
NFU vice president Guy Smith, who is still waiting for his payment, said the email was another chapter in the shambolic communications of BPS 2015.
“It just remains eye-blisteringly shambolic to write to a heap of people on the last day of February to tell them they aren’t going to be paid in February. It is as if they are deliberately trying to wind them up," he said.
"Some people got an email telling them they were not going to be paid them in February, then another email telling them that email was a mistake and they would be paid from February and then finally this email saying you won’t be paid in February. You couldn’t make it up.
“I am still waiting for my payment but bizarrely I did get an email telling me I wasn’t going to be paid in February. Is that a good sign or a bad sign? Lord only knows.
"It is the same old problem – you have got about 15,000 people out there very confused and clueless as to when they are going to be paid.”
Farmers, including those who had and had not received their emails, echoed the sentiments on Twitter.
David Walston wrote: “Glad they will let me know on March 31 if they aren’t going to pay me in March.”
Among others, Harry Chase said he had received ’no payment and no contact from the agency’.
MPs picked up on the 'fog of confusion' over the timing of BPS payments, a huge source of frustration among farmers, in two separate reports this week and demanded a new approach.
In a damning report on the delivery of BPS in England, the Public Accounts Committee called for Defra to ‘set out clear milestones, by the end of June 2016, for when it expects to pay farmers for future years’.
The EFRA report on food prices called on RPA to ‘return to paying at least 90 per cent of Basic Payments by the end of December’, in line with previous years, a recommendation welcomed by Mr Smith.
An RPA spokesperson said: “We have been keeping farmers updated about their 2015 BPS claim progress.
"Those cases who were promised an update at the end of February received an email from us earlier this week.
“We will continue to keep farmers updated through March and expect to pay almost all claims by the end of March.”
A Defra spokesperson said: “Almost all farmers in England will be paid by the end of this month and the Rural Payments system has been further improved for 2016 to make it easier for farmers to apply for CAP payments.”
Mr Smith said “It’s essential that next year the RPA works to the recommendation of the EFRA committee and delivers 90 per cent of payments by the end of December.
This is now a line in the sand for what payment timeframe is acceptable and one which the RPA cannot ignore.
"Defra must ensure the RPA is fully resourced to meet this target.”
I'm feeling very snubbed @Ruralpay that, unlike most, I didnt get an email yesterday telling me I havent been paid. BTW - I havent been paid— Guy Smith (@essexpeasant)