26 October 2001

DEFRAwary on claim advice

MINISTERS have reservations about allowing DEFRA staff to give advice to farmers about making subsidy claims, the government has indicated.

The concept was described as a "sensitive issue" in a government response to comments by MPs on the Agricultural Select Committee who had examined subsidy systems in different European countries.

The MPs had accused DEFRA of being too restrictive in effectively banning staff from being more helpful. Although civil servants had a responsibility to protect taxpayers from fraud, staff should help "ensure that farmers receive the payments to which they are entitled", they said.

But the government said: "Advice and information needs to be unambiguous so as to ensure the customer can make appropriate claims." It added: "The paying agency must work within the legislation and there will always be cases where applicants will need to take specialised advice on practical issues."

MPs had also recommended that farmers should receive subsidy payments on the very first day of the "payment window". The government said processing claims were complicated this year because of flooding and foot-and-mouth. But it pledged to make payments as soon as possible after Nov 16.

The government said it noted the MPs recommendation to examine whether some aspects of Irelands shorter IACS forms could be adapted for the UK. But it said the number of larger arable farms in the UK meant the forms would inevitably remain more complex. &#42