Fundamental errors in farmers’ national reserve notification letters have added weight to fears that the single farm payment deadline of late February will not be met by the Rural Payments Agency.

Farm leaders and advisers have this week expressed serious doubts over whether the RPA will be able to start full payments by the end of February, as suggested by the agency and junior DEFRA minister Lord Bach last week (News, 13 January).

The NFU’s ruling council agreed a vote of no confidence in the RPA and DEFRA at a meeting on Tuesday (17 January).

Council members voiced concern at the RPA’s admission during a select committee hearing that it still had “400,000 tasks to complete” before payments could start.

Union president Tim Bennett stressed council members’ anger and dismay at the prospect of payments being late.

“Many of our members are already up to the limit on what they can borrow from their banks, so their backs are up against the wall.”

The Central Association of Agricultural Valuers is warning farmers that it does look like the RPA has miscalculated a significant number of national reserve awards, which it fears may risk delaying definitive entitlements.

“We are picking up systemic errors in the way they are doing the calculation,” said CAAV secretary Jeremy Moody.

“All farmers who receive a national reserve award letter should check through the details and calculations with extreme care and raise any questions immediately with the RPA.”

Mr Moody said problem areas were where the farmer had also made a successful hardship claim or where a private contract clause arrangement had been used.

In both these cases, these benefits should not have been deducted from the national reserve award, yet the RPA appeared to have sometimes done this.

George Paton of WebbPaton said one of his clients had received a letter which appeared to be 103,000 (70,765) less than expected.

“We have done over 60 claims and I would say one in three has come back incorrectly calculated.”

An RPA spokesman declined to comment on the level of errors found in the awards, but said applicants who wished to challenge the figures should write to the RPA Customer Service Centre with evidence supporting their case as soon as possible.

The letter should be headed “National Reserve”.

The spokesman added that the RPA announced in January 2005 that the earliest payments were likely to start was in February 2006.

“While the schedule is extremely challenging, RPA’s plan remains to commence making payments by the end of February.”

isabel.davies@rbi.co.uk