Farmers hoping to claim the new Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) have found their details “wiped” from the government’s computer system – prompting another apology from the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) as it struggles to process thousands of applications.
An unknown number of farmers are affected by the problem. Applicants logging on to the RPA website this week after submitting partial information months ago were unable to access their farm details – leaving them unable to complete applications.
The situation came to light as Brussels said it would “look favourably” at extending the 15 May application deadline, acknowledging that it would be wrong for farmers to “suffer the consequences” of delays as EU countries implemented the new scheme in its first year.
One farmer from Cornwall, who spoke to Farmers Weekly on condition of anonymity, said: “I registered in mid-January, and when I went online to complete my farm maps this week, all my details had been wiped.”
The farmer added: “They call us customers, but if I treated a customer like that I’d be out of business. It’s alright for them to make all these cock-ups but if I make a mistake or get the application in late I will suffer the penalties.”
Missing details are the latest setback for the RPA. Farmers have already complained about a lack of functionality and encountered problems using the online mapping tool. But this is thought to be the first time that details have gone missing altogether.
Farmers in other EU countries face similar problems. European farm commissioner Phil Hogan said: “I am willing to look favourably at the option of a delay in the final date of submission of applications for direct aid, as a possibility for all member states.”
Mr Hogan did not say how long the deadline might be extended. But it is thought farmers could be given at least until mid-June to submit applications. Further clarification from Brussels is expected in the coming days.
The NFU said it was continuing to receive a stream of complaints from its members about the RPA online system. NFU vice-president Guy Smith said: “It is evident now that something is fundamentally awry.”
An RPA spokesman said: “We are aware of an issue affecting a few farmers, where they are unable to view their details. The records are still safely stored and can be seen on the system by the RPA. We are working hard to resolve the problem and apologise.”