The NFU has renewed its calls for early bridging payments to cover farmers facing financial hardship due to likely delayed subsidy payments in 2017.
In Scotland, 80% of the eligible 17,000 farmers and crofters will be receiving their subsidies in November as part of a £300m national loan scheme for 2016 Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) and greening payments.
But the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) is not following suit and instead plans to start making full payments once the official payment window opens in December.
The RPA set out its targets to pay some 88,000 eligible 2016 BPS claims in a report issued on the Gov.uk website on Monday (10 October).
“Everyone knows that getting things right in the first year of BPS has been challenging,” said a spokesman.
“We are now committed to getting back to the level of performance experienced under the previous Single Payment Scheme and aim to pay 90% of customers their 2016 BPS claim by the end of December, and 93% by the end of March next year.”
That still leaves a potential 7% of unpaid claims by next April, which will likely consist of “complex cases”, including cross-border claims, or claimants whose farms have been inspected.
‘Unacceptably bad service’
NFU vice-president Guy Smith said: “My first reaction to this is to note the reiteration of the promise that 90% of claimants will paid by the end of the year, which is reassuring. The NFU will continue to hold not just the RPA, but more importantly Defra, to that promise.”
But Mr Smith voiced major concerns about the roughly 6,000 farmers and landowners in England who faced being left with no payment until at least 1 April 2017 – five months after the payment window opens.
He added: “I note to my horror that this document also say that only 93% will be paid by 31 March.
“That, in my book, is unacceptably bad service for thousands of claimants and we will be looking for an early bridging payment for those people.”
RPA chief executive Mark Grimshaw held a meeting with farming representatives, including the NFU, Country, Land and Business Association (CLA), Tenant Farmers’ Association (TFA) and others on Thursday (6 October), where he outlined his plans for BPS 2016.
60,000 online claims
George Dunn, chief executive of the TFA, said: “We asked Mr Grimshaw if he stood by his target to pay 90% of farmers their BPS by the end of December.
“He said they were well ahead with processing. The fact that 60,000 of the claims had been made online had also helped. There was nothing concerning him that this target wouldn’t be met.”
But Mr Dunn urged the RPA to clarify the finer details behind the targets.
“Are these 90% of payments going to be correct payments at the end of December?” he asked.
“Or will there be 15,000 claims that are wrong, which will take the RPA until the end of October to correct, as happened in this year’s payment scheme [BPS 2015]?”