The online application window for single farm payments has opened in England, the Rural Payments Agency has announced.

The window opened on Thursday (20 February) and the RPA is encouraging claimants to join the 55,800 people who used the system last year.

See also: Online SPS forms get thumbs up from farmers

For the first time, the RPA will not be opening drop-in centres to help farmers with queries due to a fall-off in demand.

Key dates:

  • 20 Feb: SPS 2014 window opens for online applicants.
  • 12 March: Paper application pack distribution begins.
  • 2 April: RPA must receive RLE1 forms by midnight on this date for entitlements transfers to be effective for 2014 scheme.
  • 15 May: SPS applications must reach RPA by midnight on this date.
  • 2 June: Certain changes can be made to applications that have been sent to RPA by writing to or emailing RPA. Changes received by midnight on this date will not be subjected to penalties.
  • 9 June: RPA can accept your application or any changes until midnight on this date. However, penalties will be applied. Applications received after this date will not be accepted.

RPA information and technology director Ed Schofield said: “Most farmers now choose to transact electronically because it makes good business sense. Applying for SPS electronically in 2014 will build up confidence in the online process and put farmers in a strong position for changes to come under the new Basic Payment Scheme.

“SPS online is easy to access, faster and more secure and applicants used to paper forms will find the online layout familiar but with a few extra benefits, such as built in checks and an instant receipt.”

Farmers who have not previously applied online are being sent starter packs, containing a personal identification number and a guide on how to log on to the service, to help them make the move to electronic applications.

An RPA spokesman said farmers should look out for the SPS 2014 Supplement Handbook and the Basic Payment Scheme insert being sent by email in the coming days. These are important documents which should be saved in a safe place. They will also be available on the RPA website.

All SPS applications, whether online or on paper, must reach RPA by midnight on 15 May to avoid late application penalties.

“Once you’ve sent your application, you can make certain changes by writing to us or emailing us. These must be received by midnight on 2 June to avoid penalties being applied,” the spokesman added.

After that date any changes will incur penalties, he warned.

SPS Online is available on the RPA website