Rural Payments Agency (RPA) chief executive Mark Grimshaw has urged farmers not to delay submitting 2016 Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) applications ahead of the May 16 deadline, even if they have concerns about the available information.
The RPA issued a BPS update on Wednesday, after Defra Secretary Liz Truss was urged to show ‘leadership’ in addressing mounting farmer concerns over the 2015 and 2016 schemes.
The NFU and CLA wrote to Mrs Truss this week calling on her to take a ‘public and proactive role’ on the issue.
This followed calls from NFU council last week for Defra Ministers to be held ultimately accountable for the problems which saw the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) resort to delivering 50 per cent bridging payments this week for any farmers still unpaid at the end of April.
The letter highlighted the mounting financial hardship cases and rising anxiety rising among BPS claimants over late 2015 payments, plus the demands on voluntary organisations many desperate farmers have been resorting to for assistance.
It also noted growing concerns about the 2016 schemes and questioned whether Defra had put sufficient resources and plans in place to manage these problems effectively.
Mrs Truss had yet to responded publicly to the letter, instead leaving it to the RPA to publish an update on Wednesday afternoon. She is expected to reply to the letter ‘as soon as possible’.
NFU and CLA asked Mrs Truss for ‘urgent assurances’ in four key areas:
NFU Vice-President Guy Smith, who is still to receive his own BPS payments said the decision to resort to bridging payments had ‘created further distrust rather than assurance amongst farmers’.
He said: “We need the Secretary of State to now show firm leadership on this issue and give some much needed guarantees to our members."
CLA president Ross Murray called for the RPA to be ’absolutely clear about the problems that they are experiencing’.
The RPA’s statement revealed:
The RPA insisted Defra had given it ‘the resources it needed to get these payments into bank accounts as soon as possible’.
The agency said it would investigate any BPS 2015 payment differences in summer through its routine reconciliation process.
In response tp concerns about possible penalties where 2016 applications contain errors due, for example to late payments and numerous examples of changes to data on 2016 forms, the RPA said: “Where there is flexibility in the scheme rules, the agency will use it."
RPA chief executive Mark Grimshaw, who is likely to face criticism from the EFRA Committee after giving misleading predictions about payment timings during a hearing in March, is urging farmers not to delay submitting claims.
He said: "With just over two weeks to go until the 2016 deadline, we are urging farmers who have not yet started or submitted their application for this year’s BPS not to leave it to the last minute.
“The Rural Payments service is working and help is at hand for any farmer applying who wants it.
“Meanwhile, we are making good progress with 2015 bridging payments and are on track to pay all the remainder by the end of the week.”
Richard Smallwood is deeply frustrated at being ‘misled’.
A beef and sheep farmer with about 50 hectares (120 acres), including common land, at the foot of North Dartmoor, his payment was already three months later than usual in early March when he received a belated update from the RPA.
Seemingly ending the crippling confusion and uncertainty, the agency ‘confirmed’ it expected to pay him ‘between March 21 and April 15’.
Yet mid-April came and there was ‘still no payment, or indeed any formal advice to the contrary’.
In the meantime, Mr Smallwood, whose payment represents a quarter of his farm’s gross income, had paid some bills and bough-in breeding stock.
Stressing he had no quarrel with RPA staff who were ‘very pleasant’ but ‘unable to be definitive in any way’ about his payment, he said:
“To wait for payment is one thing. To be kept in the dark is another. But to be misled some five months after anticipated payment is simply grossly insulting.”