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Truss urged to show leadership as RPA urges farmers to get on with applications

The RPA has issued an update on BPS, including a call for farmers not to delay BPS applications, after industry leaders called for a more proactive approach from Liz Truss in addressing the scheme’s problems.
Farmers want to see a more proactive approach from Liz Truss on BPS
Farmers want to see a more proactive approach from Liz Truss on BPS

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’.

 

Four key areas

NFU and CLA asked Mrs Truss for ‘urgent assurances’ in four key areas:

 

 

  • A timetable for the completion of 2015 payments, including top ups to bridging payments.
  • Whether RPA would have sufficient staff resources to adjust wrong payment adjustments before the end of August and whether interest would be paid on outstanding payments.
  • What safeguards would Defra give BPS 2016 applicants they will not be penalised for RPA’s maladministration, especially given the unexplained changes to 2015 application data.
  • Whether the RPA’s system would allow applicants to make timely applications before the window closed on May 16.

 

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’.

RPA response

The RPA’s statement revealed:

 

 

  • Nearly 78,000 BPS 2015 claims have been completed out of about 85,000 in total.
  • A further 2,600 bridging payments have been made by Wednesday, with the remainder due out by the end of this week.
  • More than 26,000 completed online BPS 2016 applications have been submitted and more than 17,400 applications were in progress, alongside 4,000 completed paper forms.
  • Call times to the Rural Services helpline were ‘continuing to fall’.

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.”

 


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What farmers need to know about BPS 2016 applications

Help and support

  • To set up an online application form applicants just need to call 03000 200 301 then key in their SBI number and contact details.
  • Agents can now also speak directly to a dedicated team via the 03000 200 301 helpline and there’s a 24/7 automated service for those who want to apply online for the first time.
  • New support features include guidance and a new Hints and Tips video:
  • The Hints and Tips document has been updated to include practical answers to some of the most frequently asked questions.
  • A range of helpful videos and documents designed to make the application process as easy as possible can be found on GOV.UK.
  • Other videos include:
  • There are also videos on changing land use and a general overview of how to apply online.
  • To make the online process easy to follow, step by step onscreen help is available throughout the application process and this useful guidance can also be printed off.

 

Online support centres

  • There are 14 online support centres across the country open.
  • During the bank holiday weekend all online support centres, with the exception of Hereford, Solihull and Cambridge, will be open on Saturday, Sunday and Bank HolidayMonday.
  • Check online at www.gov.uk/guidance/bps-2016 for full opening hours of your local centre.
  • On May 16 – the last day for applying without penalty – they will be open until midnight. It is possible to walk in during the week but appointments are required at the weekends.

 

Active farmer declaration

  • BPS 2016 paper applicants are reminded to tick the ‘active farmer’ box before submitting their claim.

 

Adding land parcels

  • To help farmers and agents complete BPS 2016 applications they can emailRPA for support with adding land parcels that they want to appear on their online claims.
  • Farmers should mark their emails ‘BPS 2016 add land’ in the subject headline of their email to ruralpayments@defra.gsi.gov.uk

 

BPS deadlines

  • The deadline for submitting forms with penalty is midnight, May 16
  • Farmers will be able to make changes to their already submitted claim until 31 May without incurring any penalties.
  • Applications can still be received until midnight on 10 June but they will lose 1 per cent of the value of their claim for every working day after the May 16 deadline their form arrives at the RPA.
  • For farmers looking to apply for new entitlements from the national reserve, applications made after 16 May will lose 3 per cent for every working day

 

Case study

 

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.”

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