The Tenant Farmers Association (TFA) has called for the 2016 Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) deadline to be extended amid growing concerns over the Rural Payment’s Agency’s ability to administer the scheme.
Following a meeting between farming organisations and RPA officials, TFA chief executive George Dunn said the TFA has written to Farming Minister George Eustice to request formally that Defra applies to the European Commission for an extension of at least a month to the May 16 deadline.
’With a major mountain to climb and little confidence that there is the joint capacity to fulfil a successful 2016 campaign by the May 16 deadline’, both the RPA and BPS applicants will be placed under ’intolerable stress’ without such an extension, he warned.
He said the TFA took took ’a long list of issues which needed to be resolved to allow BPS claims to be submitted for this year’ to the RPA’s Technical Stakeholder Group. Other organisations had equally long lists.
Mr Dunn added: "Although some progress was made, there are a significant number of issues which remain outstanding. With a month to the deadline the TFA viewed yesterday’s meeting as an important line in the sand."
Defra Ministers secured a one-month extension to the BPS 2015 deadline, following the late call to ditch the online-only application approach last year.
As things stand Defra is understood to be sticking by the May 16 deadline for BPS 2016 applications, despite these mounting concerns.
A Defra spokesperson said applications were ’flooding in’ with over 10,800 online applications submitted via the Rural Payments service so far and a further 1,400 by paper.
The latest figures for BPS 2015 showed little progress had been made in recent weeks, with about 10,000 farmers still waiting for payments despite assurances from RPA chief executive Mark Grimshaw ’almost all’ payment, 92 to 95 per cent, would be paid by the end of March.
Outstanding payments include about 5,400 farmers who were inspected, 3,500 commons claims and 1,000 other claims ‘in the final stages of completion’ had still not been paid.
More than 76,000 claims, 88 per cent, have been completed but there was no indication of when outstanding claims would be paid.
Industry organisations, agents and farmers have all been expressing concern in recent weeks about the knock-on effects of delays in 2015 payments for the 2016 scheme.
The late payments, along with delays in getting claim statements out (by this Friday 65,000 were due to have been sent out, leaving about 20,000 without), numerous cases of 2015 underpayments and missing data on 2016 forms have led to concerns many farmers will not have sufficient data to make accurate 2016 applications.
North Devon farmer Brian Griffiths, whose claim has been delayed because of an inspection, said it was ‘almost impossible’ for him to submit his 2016 application as he had received no feedback on whether his inspection.
“We need the claim statement in order to know whether the 2015 claim was OK before we can submit the 2016 claim,” he said.
The Rural Payments Agency (RPA) is urging farmers to get forms in on the basis of the information they have with the deadline now just a month away.
The agency has indicated it will ‘exercise flexibility’ where possible when it comes to correcting errors on BPS 2016 claims caused by problems with the 2015 scheme.
Asked what assurances RPA could give to farmers in this position a spokesman said: “Claimants are responsible for the information provided on their claim.
“Where there is flexibility within the scheme rules to correct errors on claims we will seek to exercise flexibility or provide advice to claimants
"Applicants should use the latest information they have available. If they’re not sure what the correct information is, they should claim for what they believe they are entitled to, based on the evidence they have.”
She said the agency would investigate BPS 2015 payment differences flagged up by farmers and agents and, if needed, make any additional payments over the summer, or for the smaller amounts, as part of their 2016 BPS payments.
Mr Grimshaw suggested many of the issues experienced with BPS 2015 would be ironed out for the 2016 scheme.
He said: "We understand the importance of these payments to farmers and the Agency is working round the clock to get the remaining payments checked and paid to farmers.
“We are now processing some of the most complex cases such as those on common land, which we have always said would take longer to get right.
“I have every sympathy for farmers who have not been paid. For those customers experiencing real difficulty, we have established a hardship fund which can be accessed to provide some immediate relief.
“I want to re-assure the industry we are handling many issues that are specifically related to year one of the new scheme - and 2016 will be different.”
The RPA has issued more details on BPS 2015 delays and the 2016 application process.
Remaining claims to be finalised include:
New features have been added to the support available to 2016 Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) applicants.