The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Efra) Committee published a highly critical report on the RPA’s handling of the 2015 and 2016 BPS schemes this week, describing the agency’s failure to meet its March payment target as ‘unacceptable’ and condemning the agency’s ’confusing communications’.
Efra chairman Neil Parish said: "Farmers face extreme hardship as prices for produce are low.
"Many producers rely on CAP payments to pay their bills so it is unacceptable that farmers are left uncertain over when their payments will arrive."
The MPs, noting the difficulties for farmers who had not received a breakdown of their 2015 payment in submitting a correct 2016 claim, called on Defra to take advantage of flexibility offered by the European Commission to extend the May 16 application deadline by a month.
However, Defra and the RPA said they would stick by next Monday’s deadline and insisted farmers in England were ‘on track’ to get their applications in on time.
Many farmers who have been paid late in the window or are still waiting for the top up to their bridging payment remain deeply concerned about the information they have at their disposal.
NFU uplands spokesman Robin Milton said he had been contacted by a number of farmers with common land who had received what appeared to be full payments – but with no sign of commons entitlements or accompanying payment and entitlement statements.
“Anything to do with common land seems to have vanished from their claim and statements,” he said.
The RPA is urging farmers with outstanding queries or waiting for the balance payments to still apply by midnight on Monday ‘using the position on the ground at May 16’.
The agency said it would investigate any payment differences and make adjustments over the summer through ‘routine reconciliation’.
It promised to use flexibility ‘where it exists’ under scheme rules ‘so customers were not penalised unnecessarily for claiming on what they believed to be correct for BPS 2016’.
But Mr Milton was sceptical the RPA would be able to correct these payments and called for ’penalties for any mistakes on application forms to be waived this year’.
“If RPA have no record of 2015 entitlements, how can farmers know they will be paid in 2016? My fear is 2016 will be the year of the penalty – many upland farmers and anybody with common land is going to end up with penalties by default,” he said.
NFU vice-president Guy Smith said the NFU did not support extending the 2016 application deadline for a month.
He said: "The RPA has made it clear that the source of so many concerns around the 2015 claims and 2016 form completion will not be clarified until this summer.
"An additional period of time now, in our view, will not help resolve these fundamental issues at this time."
He added: "It’s encouraging that the report picks up the inconsistent service given to farmers and says that all farmers should experience prompt payments and good communication.
It’s vital the RPA avoids generic communications, vague promises and long waiting times for responses to calls and correspondence.
"Sadly customer service has been a big casualty with the introduction of BPS, the impact of which has not yet been fully felt. We are looking to RPA to be as pragmatic as possible with the processing of issues arising from poor customer service."
The committee called on Defra and RPA to: