Nearly half of all Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) claimants in England have been paid ahead of Christmas, the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) has announced.
More than 42,000 farmers out of a total 87,095 eligible claimants have received full BPS payments, representing over 48 per cent of all eligible claims.
The agency said it remained on track to meet its commitment to pay more than half of eligible claimants before the end of December and to deliver the vast majority of payments by the end of January.
It is continuing to process regular batches of payments and further payment runs will be made during December and throughout January.
RPA chief executive Mark Grimshaw said: “We understand how important these payments are to hard-pressed farmers. Our focus has always been on making sure accurate payments reach as many farmers as possible.
“We remain on track to meet our commitments to pay more than half of eligible claims in December and the vast majority by the end of January, and work continues on processing the remaining claims.”
The NFU has criticised the RPA’s performance, pointing out, while it might narrowly meet its December target by volume of payments, it has focussed on smaller payments, meaning it will fall well short of 50 per cent delivered by value by the end of December.
The RPA has not revealed the value of payments delivered so far.
But previous figures released showed while it had delivered 36,000 payments, representing 41 per cent of claimants, by December 8, the £293 million paid out represented just 19.5 per cent of the estimated fund value.
An NFU survey showied three-quarters of its members had still not been paid, a reflection of hpw payments had been ‘heavily skewed to the very small claims’, according to NFU vice president Guy Smith.
Speaking before the latest RPA figures were announced, Mr Smith said the ‘initial spurt’ of payments in early December had ’turned into a very disappointing dribble’ over the past fortnight.
About 15,000 farmers have been told they are unlikely to be paid by the end of January, potentially representing more than 25 per cent of the value of the payments. Mr Smith predicted more of these letters would be going out.
He said: “If the RPA is struggling to pay these claims in January, the worrying scenario is there might still be a lot of people unpaid at Easter. This could start to impact on the 2016 application window.”
The NFU is calling for greater transparency from Defra and the RPA in their reporting on payment progress, including references to both the number of farmers paid and the total value of those claims.
It is also requesting extra resources to speed up claims unlikely to be paid by the end of January and for part-payments to be considered by early February for these claims.
NFU president Meurig Raymond said many farmers were now in a situation where they were without a payment or a letter stating their payment will be delayed.
"These are the farmers that we are particularly concerned about. If the RPA cannot make the vast majority of payments by the end of January, as promised, then they must tell the farmers who are expecting payment.
"In our view, vast majority must be at least 85-90 per cent of claims in volume and value. No one can plan on false hope and uncertainty."
The RPA said payments had been made to businesses of all sizes across all sectors ranging from under £500 to £150,000.
In Scotland, only about a quarter of farmers will have received their 70 per cent part-payment by the end of December, with ‘the majority’ of farmers due to receive theirs by the end of January and the rest by the end of March.
The 30 per cent balance payment will be delivered by the end of April.
In Wales, 50 per cent of part-payments were delivered in the first week of December. The ‘vast majority’ are expected to be paid ‘early in the New Year’ with balances due by the end of April.
In Northern Ireland, 95 per cent of full payments, worth £192.4, have been delivered in line with the December target. This includes 1,700 claims that were subject to inspection.