A lap top with the government CAP service on the screen

Farmers are being urged not to leave it until the last minute to register for the forthcoming new digital-only single farm payments system.

 Over the next three months, farmers and landowners in England will be sent their registration package which invites them to sign up for the CAP Digital Information Service.

Defra said it was keen for all 100,000 applicants to register no later than mid-February ahead of the launch of the Basic Payments Scheme (BPS) in mid May.

IT analysts have been testing the new service on farmers to get feedback and make changes where necessary to ensure it will be as user-friendly as possible.

Defra has reassured the industry that there would be no repeat of the 2005 payments fiasco, which dogged the launch of the current digital system.

See also: Tips on planning for Basic Payment Scheme and greening rules

However, a spokesman for Defra’s CAP delivery programme, said the biggest fear was everybody leaving it until the last minute to register, which could increase the risk of the system crashing and leave farmers no time to amend applications.

“But the biggest risk is if people leave it until the last two weeks to register, say if the deadline is 15 May and everyone leaves it until 8 May,” said the spokesman

 “Therefore, when you get invited to register, do it as soon as possible. Please get on and do the initial phases such as checking your business details, your land.

“If we can get everyone registered by mid-February at the latest then we can start the application process.”

How to register for the CAP Digital Information Service

To register for the new system, farmers, landowners and land agents will first have to log on to the GOV.UK Verify website to have their identity verified by one of five third party identity assurance providers, including Experian and Verizon.

Farmers will be asked a number of questions about their personal circumstances and finances.

Driver’s licence or passport details will be required to register and at least two of the following: bank account / credit card details, personal loan or mortgage (if applicable), gas or electricity bill, mobile phone contract, vote registration details.

Defra said the whole registration process should take about 10 minutes. But farmers who are unable to register will be asked to call an 0300 number (the same as a local rate call) where they will be advised of the steps they must take to register. For some, this may require a visit to a drop-in centre.

In September, Defra sent letters to 13,000 applicants with no digital history to ask if they needed assistance to register for BPS.

Of these, about 4,000 have replied with some applicants explaining that they did not have the skills, access to a computer or suitable broadband connection. Defra is chasing up those who have not yet replied.

After registration, applicants will have control of the information stored about them, based on 2014 SPS applications, and they will need to check that personal and business details are up to date.

Support

Defra has set up three pilot digital support centres – in Penrith, Carlisle and Exeter – to help those in genuine need of digital assistance. Its ambition is to ensure that farmers who need help will be no more than 30 miles from any support centre.

“We have learned a lot of lessons from the past. What happened in 2005 is still in everyone’s mind – but that’s not going to happen again,” said the spokesman.

“We are in a very, very different place. We have had farmers at the heart of this project and a list of 154 customers who have received one-to-one insight interviews.

 “We have also spent at least 80 hours with the NFU, CLA, TFA and CAAV, and others on an almost weekly basis, testing concerns and really understanding what’s going on.”

Defra said the CAP Digital service was still being honed. For example, analysts are in the fifth iteration of the “People and Permissions” section, which will give others, such as land agents, permission to use the service on behalf of applicants.

 The mapping tool, which applicants must use to view and make changes to their land details, such as adding hedges or trees, has been the most challenging aspect of the service in testing, the spokesman said.

 “There are customers who are very used to using mapping services, such as Magic Maps, to complete their ELS applications, and others are way ahead with their GPS. But then you have got the other end of the scale,” he added.

Meanwhile, Defra is working on an Ecological Focus Area (EFA) Estimator, which will allow applicants to calculate their farm’s ecological focus area and crop diversification to comply with CAP greening rules.

Getting started on CAP Digital

  • Over the next fortnight, an estimated 1,200 land agents will be sent details on how to register for CAP Digital on behalf of their clients.
  • From December to January, applicants will be sent information on how to register their details on the GOV.UK Verify website for the CAP Digital package.
  • Register your farm business details through GOV.UK Verify through a third party identity assurance provider. Choose from Experian, Verizon, the Post Office, Digidentity and Mydex.
  • Check identity is matched correctly in the CAP Digital Information Service programme, including personal and farm business details are up to date.
  • Get started on BPS online, which is due to go live in early 2015.

Analysis

The move to a digital-only subsidy application system is a bold ambition, but the challenges should not be underestimated.

I have had a demonstration and it looks on the face of it like that registering for should be a relatively straightforward process, provided applicants prepare the right supporting materials.

But those who do not possess either a valid passport or a driver’s licence and have no access to broadband will find the experience more demanding.

There is, of course, a deep irony in Defra urging farmers to avoid any delay in signing up for the new system when the registration rollout has itself been delayed.

It would have been helpful if Defra had fulfilled its original goal and rolled out the registration process last month. Officials are now saying all applicants will receive their invitations to register sometime from December to February, which adds to the anxiety.

But Defra is adamant that there will be no repeat of the severe problems that blighted the implementation of the past round of CAP reforms in 2005.

If that is the case it must remember that not all producers are computer experts or have a decent broadband connection. It also needs to keep the lines of communication open with farmers and keep providing the industry with regular progress updates.

Philip Case, Deputy News Editor