Mark GrimshawMark Grimshaw ©Tim Scrivener

Fewer than 250 farmers have made a special request for one-to-one help so they can apply for the new Basic Payment Scheme, it has emerged.

Just 236 farmers have so far made an appointment to attend a free advice session at a Rural Payments Agency support centre.

The agency has set up 50 support centres across England to help farmers unable to access the online registration system.

See also: Farmers despair over Basic Payment Scheme IT glitches

The lack of numbers could mean more people than expected are finding it easy to register for the payment online or by phone. But it could also suggest that farmers are delaying applications – raising the prospect of a last minute flood of enquiries as the 15 May deadline draws near.

Speaking at a seminar during the NFU annual conference, agency chief executive Mark Grimshaw urged more farmers to come forward if they needed assistance.

“We need farmers to tell us what support they want so we can make sure they get the right help,” he said.

The agency had now invited invited everyone it expected to apply for the Basic Payment Scheme to register, said Mr Grimshaw.

Some 49,642 farms out of an expected 85,000 had successfully done so, he told delegates at the Birmingham ICC on Wednesday (25 February).

A Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) Handbook has now been published by the agency. Detailing everything farmers need to know before they can make a claim, it draws together and updates all information previously released in various CAP reform leaflets.

Mr Grimshaw said: “Even if you were claiming under the old Single Payment Scheme, you will still need to register on the new service to claim the Basic Payment Scheme in 2015. There is lots to do in this the first year of BPS and you will need to build your claim.”

The handbook is being sent to all farmers with a registered email address later this week. Hard copies will be posted to all farmers who meet the minimum claim size requirements of the new scheme in early March.

Addressing criticism that the online system was not as intuitive as it might be, Mr Grimshaw pledged that it would be fully function well ahead of the 15 May deadline. “We expect by end of March that all functionality for all key requirements will be there,” he said.