The Rural Payments Agency has announced plans to improve contact with farmers by opening its customer service call centre at the weekends.

From this Saturday (21 April) the RPA’s customer service helpline will be available at weekends and some public holidays.

The idea is to offer better communication for farmers and food producers who have yet to complete their 2012 Single Payment Scheme (SPS) applications.

The helpline will be open on 0845 603 7777 from 9am to 3pm every Saturday until 12 May 2012. Calls to this number is charged at the local rate.

There will also be a service during the same hours on bank holiday Monday (7 May) and Sunday 13 May.

An RPA spokesperson said: “We are opening our lines at the weekend and on some public holidays as part of our ongoing commitment to improve our customer services.”

Depending on call volumes, the agency is also preparing for extended service availability for a further four Saturdays between 19 May and 9 June. An announcement on this further extension to the service will be made in due course.

However, although farmers are still provided with a paper service to fill in their SPS forms, the agency would like as many people as possible to complete their forms online as it is quicker, easier and faster for the agency to process. Up to 11 April, the RPA had received 24,000 claims for SPS 2012 applications, of which 45% have been submitted online.

In 2011, more than 31,000 farmers out of about 105,000 completed their SP5 form online. The agency wants this number will increase significantly this year.

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Read the full guidance on how to complete your single farm payment forms.