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The Rural Payments Agency (RPA) is tightening the rules on active farmer status – which will require a subset of smaller farms in England to supply an accountant’s certificate proving their eligibility to claim under the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS).

The RPA has been asked by the European Commission to carry out additional active farmer eligibility checks on claimants who have less than 36ha of land, but received more than €5,000 in 2016, and have also been inspected in 2017.

Farmers affected by these checks will receive a letter from the RPA asking for an accountant’s certificate to be returned within 10 working days.

See also: Get to grips with active farmer status for BPS

The RPA will not process their 2017 BPS claim until this certificate has been returned – raising the spectre of payment delays.

Richard Wordsworth, senior BPS adviser for the NFU, said the union raised its concerns with the RPA arguing the exercise loaded extra costs and an additional burden on those claimants affected.

The certificate must be completed by a professionally qualified accountant, so it is not possible for a farmer to do it alone.

“It is quite frustrating as this is an issue that has only come to the fore in the past month or so,” he said.

“But if people don’t get their form back then their payment will be put on hold,” said Mr Wordsworth. “So if they get a letter it is important to act on it quickly.”

The RPA has said the new checks follow an EU audit of the RPA.

Active farmer status

When claimants apply for BPS, they have to declare that they meet the “active farmer” rule, which includes whether they are carrying out any activities that fall into the “negative” list.

The negative list of non-agricultural activities is airports, railway services, water treatment works, real-estate services and permanent sport and recreational grounds.

Farmers who are claiming less than €5,000 automatically pass the active farmer test, as do those who claim more than €5,000 and are not running any of the non-agricultural activities listed.

However, claimants who are running any of the activities on the negative list are able to get “readmission” as an active farmer if they have 36ha or more of eligible land or if at least 40% of their total receipts come from agricultural activity.