Farmers are frustrated at what they view as a wall of silence from the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) about progress in investigating inaccuracies on 2015 Basic Payment Scheme claims.
The RPA revealed in late June that it was working its way through 13,000 claims where farmers think they may have been underpaid.
Last week it told Farmers Weekly it was on track with this “reconciliation” exercise and nearly 3,000 claims worth more than £5m to farmers had already been completed.
See also: RPA probes queries on 13,000 BPS claims
However, the agency has this week declined to update the figures, insisting it is not going to give a rolling commentary.
Many of our members are feeling totally disconnected from the status or basis of their 2015 payment. We are now in the eighth month of 2016 – things need to improve fast or the void of information will hinder any improvement in BPS/RPA service Richard Wordsworth, NFU BSP adviser
Richard Wordsworth, NFU BSP adviser, said farmers were frustrated by the flow of information, as even people who rang the helpline were not given a clear explanation of what was going on with their claim.
The issue was important as the sums of money involved could be significant. He knew of cases where farmers were waiting for an underpayment of more than £20,000 to be investigated.
“The big frustration is that there is a wall of silence – both at an individual level and at the more general level. It doesn’t help the RPA, farmers or the industry, these shortfalls in payments hit cashflow hard.”
Weekly updates needed
Mr Wordsworth said weekly updates on the progress that had been made would give the industry confidence that the job was getting done and confidence that the RPA would achieve its target of 90% of payments issued by the end of December.
It was also important as corrections to payments were made that farmers were given an adequate explanation of why the RPA had come to a certain decision.
“If farmers don’t agree with the outcome of the review into their claim and do not get an explanation they will continue to have questions. Then they will come back around the system, at a time when we need to resolve 2015 claim issues as soon as possible.
“We need better communications – there has already been a delay in issuing entitlement statements and inspection reports from 2015, then there is the new approach to common land division that has not been explained to individual commoners about their specific commons.”
“Many of our members are feeling totally disconnected from the status or basis of their 2015 payment. We are now in the eighth month of 2016 – things need to improve fast or the void of information will hinder any improvement in BPS/RPA service in the coming months.”
An RPA spokesman said: “We said we would investigate 2015 BPS cases where there is a discrepancy between the claim information and that held by the Rural Payments Service.
“This planned reconciliation process, which we said would take several months, will initially look at about 13,000 individual claims, many of whom wrote to the RPA. Anyone with a query on their claim can still write to the agency.
“The RPA will continue to focus on getting as much money paid to farmers as quickly as possible and we will provide a further update in due course.
“The agency is committed to paying 90% of farmers their 2016 BPS claim by the end of December.”
Funds set aside
Last month the National Audit Office (NAO) issued a report that revealed that £25.3m has been put to one side in readiness to pay the 13,000 affected farmers.
The NAO said inaccuracies in payments had arisen where there were differences between the claim forms submitted by farmers and the information held on the RPA’s computer systems.
In these instances the RPA ignored the unmatched amounts and paid out on the smaller area – often applying additional penalties relating to the scale of the differences found.
The NAO said the most common cause of problems was where the department had not updated its systems to include all information provided by the farmer.