Farming leaders have come out in force to condemn the Rural Payments Agency for losing the confidential details of farmers from across England.

NFU president Peter Kendall said the loss of two tapes containing bank details, names and other security information of anyone who has ever claimed a single payment, as revealed by Farmers Weekly, was “horrifying”.

“Farmers will be extremely worried about the vulnerability of their data, and in particular their bank details, which they have been required to provide to the RPA.

“For that reason, we will be looking for the strongest assurances from the RPA that everything is being done to locate these tapes.”

Mr Kendall also expressed concern that DEFRA was made aware of the lost data in May, but failed to tell the RPA.

The RPA discovered the data breach in October, but neither RPA nor DEFRA had planned on telling farmers about the missing tapes until Farmers Weekly discovered the breach had occurred.

“The Secretary of State said that he was informed about this issue yesterday and has told the House of Commons at the first opportunity, but we want to know why this was not reported to the Secretary of State and to the industry as soon as the tapes were known to be missing,” Mr Kendall said.

“There are questions here that need answering.”

Henry Aubrey Fletcher, Country Land and Business Association president, said the loss of data was “disappointing” and urged DEFRA to carry out a review to ensure such a situation never arose again.

Shadow farm minister Nick Herbert said DEFRA needed to answer questions as to why officials knew about the missing tapes but did not tell Mr Benn.

“Ministers must now tell us exactly who was informed about this loss and when,” he said.

“It is time for ministers to take charge of their own department and sort out the agency which they created once and for all.”

Liberal Democrat shadow rural affairs minister Tim Farron said it “beggared belief” that it took civil servants six months to admit to the “potentially catastrophic” loss.”Ministers’ reassurances won’t wash with family farmers already suffering under the chaotic payments regime.

“The agency’s bungling reinforces the need for a simpler, more cost-effective system which will help farmers get their payments efficiently, effectively and on time.”