Sheep grazing on common-land© FLPA/Rex/Shutterstock

Industry leaders have challenged the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) to clear the backlog of farm subsidy payments for 2015 and 2016 without further delay.

The RPA said 78,000 – 91% of eligible farmers in England – received their Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) payment for 2016 in December. This compares with just under 51% at the same time the previous year.

Both the NFU and Country Land and Business Association (CLA), praised the RPA for its good payment performance, but said it must pay the 9% of “BPS have-nots” their claims without any further delay.

See also: RPA clears first BPS payment target hurdle

NFU senior BPS adviser Richard Wordsworth said: “Our concern has always been for those not paid in December. The key, as always, is getting money out of the door, but also communicating where progress is.

“The only thing that many will hang their prospects of an early payment on is the next target, of paying 93% of claims by the end of March.”

The NFU said it was “not acceptable” that the RPA continues to refuse to pay bridging payments to thousands of cash-strapped farmers who face an agonising wait for their 2016 BPS payments.

The BPS 2017 application window is due to open in less than two months’ time. And the NFU said the RPA must step up communications and issue claim statements to help those already paid understand if there is a problem with their 2016 BPS payment.

Ongoing 2015 ‘issues’

Furthermore, the NFU remains concerned about a high number of outstanding 2015 BPS issues amid reports that hundreds are still waiting for top-up payments.

Julia Aglionby, the executive director of the Foundation for Common Land, said the RPA had informed her that more than 70% of common-land farmers had received their 2016 BPS payment.

But she added: “We are aware that many hundreds of commoners are still awaiting their 2016 payment and/or their top-up for 2015 BPS.”

James Goodson, a partner at rural consultancy firm Fisher German, based in Newark, said 85% of his firm’s 500 clients had received their 2016 BPS payment.

“We have sent clients a breakdown of what they should have been paid and, to use an RPA term, we think the vast majority have been paid correctly,” he added.

“Those that have not been paid correctly are a combination of farms that had inspections, mapping errors or continuation sheets with land parcels that were not inputted by RPA staff.”

RPA chief executive Mark Grimshaw said his agency had delivered on its commitment to pay 90% of farmers their 2016 BPS payment by December. He added: “This month we will communicate directly with those farmers who will be paid from January onwards to help them plan.”

Case studies

‘We are still owed 2015 money’

Buckinghamshire farmer Andy Alexander told Farmers Weekly his farm business was still owed money from the 2015 BPS scheme.

“We had another 34ha of land given to us by the Church of England (Oxford Diocese) in September 2015. The church gave the land to us under an FBT and transferred all my entitlements,” he said.

“The RPA has paid us for the original 43ha of our claim. But we are owed about £15,000 for the additional 34ha for 2015 and 2016 because the RPA has lost our RLE1 form.”

Mr Alexander, owner/occupier of AJG Alexander, South Tinkers Farm, near Leighton Buzzard, said he used money from savings and extended his banking overdraft to cover the shortfall.

‘Our payment should be a formality’

Yorkshire farmer Edward Dennison said he was still waiting for his 2016 BPS payment, despite submitting a “bog-standard claim”.

Mr Dennison, who farms 303ha in Northallerton, near the County Durham border, said: “We had a three-crop rule inspection in June. There was no problem with that.

He said: “Last year, we were paid in December. We haven’t made any changes, our acreage is the same, so it should be a formality.

“We have had to increase our overdraft to pay for feed and fertiliser.”

BPS Watch – keeping tabs on payments

Ongoing delays in 2015 support payments caused huge cashflow problems, stress and anxiety for thousands of farmers.

That is why Farmers Weekly has launched “BPS Watch”, designed to hold Defra and the Rural Payments Agency to account for their promises.

Our initiative – which will also cover Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – will focus on farmers and feature regular stories and payment updates, as we strive to keep government departments and agencies on track.