Thousands of landowners have abandoned the Single Payment Scheme for 2006, following a year of chaos at the Rural Payments Agency and payment delays.

The RPA has confirmed that it had received 105,000 SP5 forms by 2 June, 2006, compared with a total of 120,000 in 2005.

An agency spokesman pointed out that everyone had to submit an SP5 in 2005 because it was “ground zero” in terms of establishing entitlements. But in 2006 applicants only had to complete a form if claiming a payment.

“The people who have dropped out are likely to be those with very low claims,” he said. “Many people – particularly pony paddock claimants – may not wish to activate entitlements this year.”

But there are signs that some commercial farmers are also turning away from the scheme.

Farmers Weekly has spoken to a West Sussex dairy farmer who has sold his entitlements – worth £14,000 a year – because he wants to farm without interference.

“I don’t want the form-filling and I don’t want a load of officials telling me how to farm,” he said. “I feel I have got my freedom back and I can run my farm properly.”

Richard Wordsworth, NFU single payment scheme adviser, said if 12% fewer people had applied in 2006 it should cut processing times.

“If you take 15,000 claims out the system then it may help move validation on by six weeks.” But he added: “My concern is where the money goes that is attached to those entitlements? Ultimately, it will be locked out until it goes into the national reserve.”

Meanwhile, the 3300-plus farmers who are still waiting for a 2005 payment are getting increasingly distressed about their situation.

Gloria Beckett of Aldham Hall Farm, Aldham, near Colchester said her family’s claim had been delayed because she had failed to tick a box indicating that they needed FVP authorisations for 8ha (19 acres) of potatoes.

“I’ve held my hands up to the mistake and asked if the RPA can pay on the rest of the claim. But so far we have received no money. I just can’t understand why it is all taking so long.”

Mrs Beckett said the problem was made worse by the fact that she couldn’t ever talk to anyone at the RPA who knew her situation.

But farm leaders from the Tenant Farmers Association, Country Land and Business Association and NFU were told on Wednesday (7 June) that these cases had now been assigned to a case handler and the call centre had a list of all claimants in the top priority category.

“If unpaid claimants ring the call centre (0845 603 7777) and give their SBI number and say they are one of the priority claimants, the call centre operator will then contact the assigned case handler and ask them to get in touch directly with the claimant,” said the NFU. “Not all cases have yet got their own case handler, but most have.” 

TFA chief executive George Dunn said the RPA was also talking about starting to make payments to farmers caught in this group manually, bypassing the computer system which was causing problems.

The agency is also understood to be planning to invite both parties into one of its offices in cases where there are unresolved dual claims.

The NFU said the RPA’s aim was to get full or part payments out over the next three weeks to all top priority claimants and Hill Farm Allowance farmers.

Single Farm Payment Scheme special report from FWi

For more Frequently Asked Questions on the single farm payment.