Farmer with computer© PhotoAlto/REX/Shutterstock

A report by the government’s spending watchdog has revealed the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) has identified more farmers who may have been underpaid on their 2015 Basic Payment Scheme claim.

The National Audit Office (NAO) has issued a progress report on the delivery of the CAP delivery programme which reveals  as of 17 October the RPA had reviewed more than 12,500 claims and paid out an additional £27.4m to at least 10,500 farmers.

But the report also reveals the agency “reanalysed improved data” in October 2016 and as a result identified further farmers who may potentially have been underpaid.

See also: Scale of BPS underpayments problems revealed by NAO report

“The RPA also expects further case to arise as farmers will continue to write to the RPA to query the amount of their payment,” it said.

Farmers Weekly submitted a request to the RPA asking how many more farmers might be affected but the agency declined to give any further information.

A spokesman said: “The reconciliation of 2015 BPS payments started after the 2016 BPS application window closed, looking at an initial 13,600 payments. This has now been completed and confirmation letters continue to be sent to farmers.

“RPA will investigate new queries which customers raise and make any top-up payments due.”

BPS reconciliation progress

As of 17 October 2016:

  • Top-up payment of more than €1,000 (£895) paid – 6,876 claims
  • Top-up payment of less than €1,000  paid– 3,625 claims
  • Claim where no top-up payment due – 2,088 claims
  • Claims still to be processed – 1,009 claims
  • Total money paid out – £27.4m to 10,500 farmers

Guy Smith, NFU vice-president, said while a number of reconciliation payments had been made since 17 October it was clear that the “clean-up job” on 2015 claims was far from over.

“We are now approaching the complaints and appeals stage of the process and we’re concerned there are still thousands of farmers who are not sure if they have been paid enough.”

The claim forms sent to farmers consist of just one line of information which made it hard to work out if they were correct, he said.

“People who have got penalties aren’t being given the details of the penalty,” he added. “But they need information so they can understand them.”

Regional variations

Other points of note in the NAO report include an admission there was regional variation in the timing of payments with some areas getting their payments faster than others.

For example, a higher proportion of farmers in the west of the country received their BPS before 31 December 2015 and it was not until 31 March 2016 payments were more evenly spread across England.

However, certain counties – such as Cumbria, Hampshire and Northamptonshire – continued to lag behind as late as June 2016.

It is thought that problems in resolving claims with common land or cross-border applications may have been a factor.

2016 claims

Looking forward, the report said that 80% of farmers had applied for the 2016 scheme online which would significantly reduce the amount of data processing required by the RPA.

The RPA has also outsourced data entry for the 17,000 forms submitted on paper to a company that specialises in data entry from manual forms. The NAO said this firm had “stronger controls over input accuracy.”

The RPA has pledged to pay 90% of claimants by the end of December and 93% by the end of March 2017. No target for the end of June 2017 has been set.

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.