The Rural Payments Agency (RPA) has failed to meet its targets for delivering Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) payments in March, figures published by the agency confirm.
Following the latest payment run, 75,630 2015 BPS claims have now been completed in England, leaving about 10,000 claimants still waiting to be paid.
The latest figures mean 87 per cent of the total claimant population and 89 per cent off the 85,000 or eligible BPS claimants in England have now been paid.
In early March, RPA chief executive Mark Grimshaw told MPs he expected ’almost all farmers will be paid by end of March’.
“My expectation is we will be in a range by the end of March of 92 to 95 per cent paid,” he told the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee.
At the time the agency had delivered 72,324 payments, about 85 per cent of eligible claims. Since then about 3,300 more claims have been paid, some of which were delivered in the first few days of April.
An RPA spokesman said: "We understand the importance of BPS payments for farmers and our priority has been to pay as many farmers as possible as quickly as possible from the opening of the payment window.
"We understand the frustrations expressed by farmers and our efforts are now fully focused on paying the remaining claims. We are now dealing with increasingly complex claims which are proving harder than we anticipated.
CLA President Ross Murray called on the agency to take ’swift and decisive action’ to address ongoing problems with the BPS system, which also appear to include significant levels of under-payment.
He said: “It is a significant concern that the RPA has missed its end of March target.
"Communications appear to be an increasing problem. It is particularly disappointing to hear examples of farmers who received letters in March promising payment within three weeks that subsequently did not arrive.
"The failure to meet these commitments is causing serious issues for businesses that are already facing cash flow challenges in a difficult marketplace."
NFU vice president Guy Smith said the RPA now had a ’moral obligation’ to inform more than 10,000 farmers in England still waiting for their payment when it will arrive.
Mr Smith said: "The lack of progress in getting the last 10-15,000 payments is turning into a weekly saga of the RPA failing to deliver against their promises.
"There is now a moral obligation on Defra to tell those unpaid as to what is going on and why payments aren’t getting out.
"If it is because they can’t get the IT to work then they now need to get part payments out as a matter or urgency.
"It’s now eighteen weeks since the opening of the payment window. As one of those still unpaid I’ve had my patience unreasonably played with."
Delays in payments, with many commons, inspection and cross border claims still waiting, is not the only concern.
Mr Murray said CLA was also ’very concerned’ about the extent of BPS underpayments’.
"Our fear is that the number of claimants who have been underpaid reaches into the tens of thousands and, in some extreme cases, the error amounts to more than 50 per cent," he said.
"This is causing serious difficulties for farms affected not only this year, but it will also create difficulty and uncertainty for them in making their 2016 claim within the next six weeks.
“It appears that there are still serious weaknesses in the RPA systems. Many of our members have reported missing or incorrect data in their 2016 applications, which does little to restore confidence in the online system.
"Also there is very little clarity about what a claimant can do to resolve underpayment or missing data issues.
“There is an urgent need for the RPA to acknowledge the scale of the underpayment issues and put in place systems to resolve the problems."
Commenting on concerns delays in BPS 2015 payments will affect 2016 applications, the RPA spokesman said:
"Farmers can make a BPS 2016 application based on the latest information they have available.
"If they’re not sure what the correct information is, they should claim payment for what they believe they are entitled to, based on the evidence they have."