A farmer sits with her head in her hands while looking at the Rural Payments Agency website© Tim Scrivener

The Rural Payments helpline was down for more than two hours on Monday (14 May) on the eve of the deadline for BPS 2018 applications.

In a brief statement posted online on Monday (14 May), the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) reported the helpline was “experiencing technical problems” and those seeking assistance may not be able to get in contact.

The agency added: “We are working to resolve these problems and will publish further updates as soon as we can.”

See also: RPA opens six drop-in centres across England

But two hours later, at 11.15am, the RPA added a notification on its Twitter page to say the helpline was up and running again and the problems had been resolved.

The problems with the helpline come at a crucial time for farmers yet to submit their 2018 Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) application.

The deadline is midnight on Tuesday (15 May) and after that farmers are penalised with deductions from their BPS money.

Farm leaders have warned that completing the application will take longer than in 2017 due to major errors in the mapping data of the new hedges layer tool.

Farmers Weekly contacted Defra for more information about the helpline’s technical problems, but Defra declined to comment.

Six drop-in centres across England which farmers and landowners can access to submit their 2018 Basic Payment claims are open on Monday (14 February) until 5pm at Carlisle, Reading, Exeter, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Workington and York.

On Tuesday (15 May) – the deadline to submit claims before deductions can be imposed – the centres will be open until 10pm.

The RPA urged farmers to read the BPS 2018 guidance in full on Gov.UK and only call the helpline on 03000 200 301 if they still have an issue.