Defra’s CAP delivery programme, which includes the launch of the £154m digital payments system remains “on track” to go live in 2015, according to the team charged with delivering the new service.

The IT team, which has been tasked with the fundamental redesign of the whole digital service, has set itself an ambitious target of getting the system ready by October ahead of the full launch in the new year.

The new digital service is being introduced gradually, by invite only, to groups of customers over the coming months, with the majority of Defra’s 100,000 customers being invited on around late October. A small number of users, representing a variety of customer types, have been invited to give Defra feedback on the service now.

Ahead of the applications window opening in England for the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) in February 2015, the system will be made available as a public beta in late October.

This means users will be able to start using the system to log their details on the system before it is formally released later in the year.

Jo Broomfield, programme director for the CAP delivery programme, said: “There are two forces at work behind the programme’s aims – the shift to make government services digital by default and needing to address the problems of the past, when in some cases government IT projects have failed to deliver.

“The problems with the last round of the CAP reform in 2005 illustrate what can go wrong.”

The team, which is 393 strong, is focusing on recognising that the end user – whether that’s the farmer, agent or caseworker – should drive the development of the service.

To this end, it is constantly seeking user feedback so that as each part of the service is developed and put online, they can make sure it is right.

Farmers and landowners are being involved at every step of the development of the system to make sure it is matching their requirements.

Currently, the team is working on an eligibility calculator, which will help customers to understand if they meet the complex EU criteria of the new CAP.

“It’s technically challenging to pull off, but we know from early testing this will be very welcome to our service users,” said Marc Heasman, a CAP delivery service manager.

Major remapping is also necessary as ineligible features now have to be mapped, so the complexity of the new system cannot be underestimated.

A Defra spokesman said: “The CAP information Service has been designed with customers and their feedback has helped create a simple, more user-friendly service to apply for all the new CAP schemes.

“During 2014, CAP Information Service will be introduced gradually so customers can register, check their details and familiarise themselves with the service, getting ready to claim payments and apply for schemes in 2015. We will contact customers directly with full information on when and how to register.”

Earlier this month, RPA chief executive Mark Grimshaw warned that the government agency was entering “one of the most challenging periods in its history” . He said delivering the new payments system would be a “tough task”.

On Monday (28 July), chartered surveyors H& H Land and Property urged farmers to engage with the new scheme “as soon as possible”.

Andrew Jamieson, the firm’s specialist on CAP reform, said: “Farmers should examine the requirements of the scheme quickly, and seek help if they feel the schedule is too tight, or they lack confidence in being able to master another online system by the fast approaching deadline.”

CAP Digital deliver programme – Q&A

1. Will everyone be required to register anew?

Everyone will need to register on the new system, but all of your details will be transferred over from any previous CAP system you have used, so they will not need to be entered anew. Registering and checking your details should not take long and once you are registered you do not need to do so again.

2. When will Defra be calling on users to register their details?

There is a gradual controlled release. A selection of users – both farmers and agents – will gradually be invited to register for the system over August. They have been selected as a representative cross section of our customer base.

3. How will the ‘public beta’ work in October?

The system will be publically available to everyone in October. All customers will be given an email invite to register.