About 20,000 farmers in England are still owed Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) payments worth £400 million, the Rural Payments Agency has revealed.
By the end of January, 66,800 farmers in England, 77 per cent of the claimant population of about 87,000 had been paid.
More than £1 billion, 70 per cent of an estimated total fund of £1.43 billion, has now been paid out.
RPA chief executive Mark Grimshaw confirmed the agency intended to have paid ’almost all eligible farmers by the end of March’.
A ’few thousand’ of the more complex cases would take slightly longer, as they did under the Single Payment Scheme, he added.
Mr Grimshaw and Defra Ministers had long committed to paying the ’vast majority’ of eligible BPS claimants by the end of January.
The vague nature of that commitment makes it impossible to gauge whether the agency has delivered on its January target.
Challenged by MPs last week to confirm whether he believed the ’vast majority’ would be met, Farming Minister George Eustice said:
"We can agonise over the definition of the vast majority. As far as I am concerned over 60,000 farmers is a vast amount of applications and a vast amount of work has gone into processing."
This was a point frequently raised by MPs in a debate last week, which saw Defra and RPA come in for heavy criticism of its communications around BPS 2015.
Mr Grimshaw said: “I understand how important it is to know more about the timings of payments for farmers who are running a business."
But many farmers have expressed shock at learning they would not be paid until February at the earliest.
The RPA had written to 13,000 claimants earlier in January recently telling them they would not be paid before the end of January, following on from 15,000 similar letters sent in November.
However, many farmers who had not received letters in November or earlier in January and were fully expecting to be paid by the end of the month, have received letters out of the blue.
NFU vice president Guy Smith suggested farmers had been ’deceived’ and branded RPA’s communications as ’shambolic’.
He said: "We still have 20,000 farmers unpaid and this just isn’t acceptable. While the 67,000 ‘haves’ are now satisfied, the 20,000 ‘have nots’ become more frustrated as every unfulfilled day goes by.
"To make matters worse, RPA communications have been nothing short of shambolic.
"By the end of January we had thousands of unpaid claimants who were understandably of the view that as they hadn’t received the ‘letter of doom’ informing them that ‘they were unlikely to be paid by the end of January’ then it was reasonable to assume they would be paid before February.
"You could go as far as to say these people have now been ‘deceived’ with an inferred promise that has been broken.
"But to add to the mayhem, as the witching hour approached on the last day of January, we have a sudden outburst of emails from the RPA sent out to farmers telling them that because they had been inspected they would now be paid from February onwards."
He added: "Farmers must be paid as soon as possible. The danger is now that delays may compromise the ability to smoothly implement the application window for 2016."
Responding to the claims an RPA spokesman said: We could only identify which farmers would not be paid by the end of January once we had confirmed a final batch of payments this weekend.
“That is why letters and emails went out at the weekend to reassure them that we are continuing to work on their payment but only once we knew we were contacting the right farmers.”
CLA President Ross Murray said: “This is a very difficult time for those still waiting for their payment, and it is crucial that the RPA’s focus remains on ensuring that all outstanding payments are made as soon as possible."
“Farms can’t plan without clear and reliable information about the timeframe in which they will be paid."
He suggested the ‘inspection’ emails were sent in error ’causing unnecessary confusion in the last week’ .
"We are reassured that the RPA is addressing this confusion as a matter of urgency," he said.
The RPA said it was working with a range of voluntary organisations to support farmers experiencing hardship.
Any farmers wanting help and advice should contact the Rural Payments helpline on 03000 200 301 in the first instance.
The Forestry Commission (FC) has paid out over two thirds (70 per cen) of capital payments, totalling £13 million to woodland owners to protect, improve and expand woodlands in England.
It has also paid out over 50 per cent of valid annual claims worth just under £6 million. Work is ongoing to pay outstanding valid annual claims ’as soon as possible’.