Is anyone taking legal action over the whole SFP fiasco?

North Somerset farmer Paul Bateman has issued a claim against DEFRA secretary Margaret Beckett for failing to deliver his £2000 SFP payment by 28 February, 2006.

The NFU’s legal affairs team have also already assisted and advised some members on complaints to the Parliamentary Ombudsman about, in particular, digital mapping.

The union is also seeking Counsel’s opinion on possible courses of action open to members whose maps have not been finalised.

Who gets the interest on the money sat waiting to be paid to farmers?

The government has denied that it is getting interest on the £1.3bn that is yet to be paid to farmers.

Junior DEFRA minister Lord Bach told the House of Lords last week that if anyone is making any interest it will be the EU.

“There is no question of it being in UK government bank accounts where interest can be gained,” he said.

What has happened to former RPA chief executive Johnston McNeill?

The government talked about “removing” Mr McNeill rather than sacking him because he is still being paid.

The government has confirmed that the ex-chief executive of the RPA is on paid leave of absence from his £150,000-a-year job until DEFRA is in a position to determine and agree the terms of his departure.

Why have some farmers got paid before they have even seen a validated entitlement statement or a payment statement?

The RPA says this is happening because it is dealing with parallel processes.

It claims it all depends on where a farmer’s statement sits in the queue to be posted out.

If the farmer was at the front of the queue to be paid, but at the back of the queue to have his statement sent out, he could well get paid before receiving his statement.

Who has had their money so far? Does size matter?

Payments are being made on a random basis – they are not alphabetical, regional or dependent on when you made your application.

But the government has instructed the RPA to prioritise the validation of claims to release the maximum value of payments as quickly as possible, which it says will mainly benefit “middle-sized historic customers”.

Is there any truth in the rumour that some of the validated entitlement statement letters dated 16 February were meant to be unvalidated?

The RPA says there is no truth in this rumour.

It claims that it is quite possible that a farmer could have received a validated statement early on but not have been paid yet.

“Some of this is due to the difficulties in getting claims authorised, but our authorisation process is being significantly streamlined,” it says.

“At the same time, our staff continue to work through those claims that remain partially validated.

Our new approach is also aimed at speeding up this process so that once validation is complete, those claims can be paid as soon as possible.”

Will the 2006 application deadline be moved because of the problems?

Many observers think it is unlikely that the 15 May deadline will be moved because this is enshrined in the EU legislation.

Instead, farm leaders are pushing for late application penalties to be waived, which would effectively move the 2006 application deadline to 9 June.

DEFRA has said further advice on the application deadline will be given to farmers shortly.

Have mapping problems improved?

The RPA is starting to join up staff working on mapping issues, with those involved in the processing of claims.

It has also centralised key mapping work at a single office in Reading.

NFU president Peter Kendall went on a fact-finding mission to the RPA this week and said the system did seem to be working.

But he added that he was yet to be reassured that the changes introduced were helping to make a difference to the headline payment figures.