The Rural Payments Agency has bowed to industry pressure and said that blank SP5 application forms and field data sheets will be available from its website on Friday and copies will also be available from RPA drop-in centres.

But the agency has indicated that it would still prefer farmers to use a pre-populated form if possible, because they have an individual barcode which relates directly to each customer.

A spokesman said the RPA’s blank forms were not “ideal”, but they were far preferable to unofficial versions without barcodes, where the boxes did not align correctly, preventing scanning and requiring manual inputting.

The unofficial version in question is one produced by the NFU in response to complaints from farmers that they have been unable to obtain continuation field data sheets.

The NFU has not published its form yet, because the RPA has said it will slow down processing if used, but the union has said it will if things don’t improve significantly.

The RPA spokesman claimed the agency was already preparing to make continuation sheets available when the NFU showed it its own bespoke field data continuation sheets late last week.
 
“We explained that, although their document had been put together very carefully, it would still have to be input manually rather than scanned, which would undoubtedly delay the processing of the individual applications concerned and, if the forms were used on any scale impact significantly on our overall processing and payment timetable.

“In the light of this, we asked the NFU to wait until the impact of our releasing blank forms could be assessed before acting on its own initiative. It is very helpful that they agreed to do this and will help us to process 2006 applications more quickly when we receive them.”