NFU vice-president Guy Smith has called for answers about when the remaining Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) claims will be paid, after predicting the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) would fall short of its March target.
RPA chief executive Mark Grimshaw told MPs three weeks ago the agency was on course to pay ‘92-95 per cent’ of claims by the end of March.
“I do expect almost all farmers will be paid by end of March," he told the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee.
He was speaking on March 9 when he revealed 85 per cent of eligible claims have been paid, with 12,529 claimants still owed payments worth about £300 million .
There has not been an update since then but, commenting on Wednesday (March 30), Mr Smith said it was ‘quite clear’ the March target had not been reached, with about 10,000 farmers in England still unpaid.
He said: “My April 1 message to the RPA is, ‘Stop taking us for fools; something clearly has not gone to plan, so what exactly is the problem?
"When will it be fixed and when can the 10,000 plus still waiting for payment expect to be paid’?”
An RPA spokesperson said: “Our aim has been to pay as many claims as possible by the end of the month.
“As promised, we are writing to remaining unpaid farmers to provide a clear timeframe during which they can expect to be paid.
“Of the remaining unpaid claims, there will be some we cannot pay now, such as probate cases.”
She said there would be a report on payment progress next week once the final payments of the month had been made.
Julia Aglionby executive director of the Foundation for Common Land (FCL), warned recently the RPA was unlikely to be in a position to deliver most commons claims in March, as Mr Grimshaw had predicted.
Mr Smith called for more resources to be thrown at the RPA’s helpline as farmers seeking answers from it from faced long waits.
He said: "This issue and questions around lower payments than expected and mapping irregularities is clearly drowning the RPA call centre as people wait for up to an hour to get through.
"While we urge people not to call the RPA unnecessarily and not to take their frustrations out on RPA call centre staff - it’s clear the RPA need more people with more information answering the phone.
The spokesperson acknowledged the concerns.
She said: "We are aware of the volume of calls to the helpline.
"We are receiving calls on a range of different subjects and we are reviewing our resources as a matter of urgency."