The British government is having to pay back some €69.4m (£55.5m) in EU money to Brussels, following earlier failures to determine accurately the area eligible for arable payments.

The clawback is part of the regular trawl by EU Commission auditors, to ensure that member states are sticking to the rules when it comes to paying out taxpayers’ money.

“The money returns to the community budget because of inadequate control procedures or non-compliance with EU rules on agricultural expenditure,” said a statement.

This is the 28th time the EU Commission has conducted such a clawback since the system for recovering unduly spent CAP money was reformed in 1995.

Usually the UK fairs pretty well from the process, with only minor infringements. But this time it has been hit hard, only being surpassed by Italy (€145m) and Greece (€128m) in the level of disallowances.

A spokeswoman for the Rural Payments Agency said that the problem related to the old arable area payment scheme (AAPS) in 2003 and 2004.

Satelite image

The commission’s concern was with the use of high resolution (HR) satellite imagery, which it considered inadequate.

This system has now been replaced by very high resolution (VHR) imagery, so the problem has been corrected. The spokeswoman added that the disallowance had been predicted and there was a provision for it in the DEFRA accounts.