Concern is escalating over the scale of the challenge facing farmers as they continue to struggle with their Basic Payment Scheme (BPS)
The majority of UK farmers are still to submit their forms, despite the deadline being two weeks away in Wales and Northern Ireland and less than 50 days in England and Scotland.
The NFU has this week written to Defra secretary Liz Truss demanding urgent action to clear up confusion in England.
The union has called for clarity on the rules for mapping permanent ineligible features (PIFs) and warned of the potential for farmers to suffer penalties through no fault of their own.
The Rural Payments Agency (RPA) claims that by today (1 May) all farmers should now have received their pre-populated form – either by email or post. But it has emerged that nearly 6,000 of those forms were only sent to producers this week.
NFU vice-president Guy Smith said many farmers had no confidence in the system.
“We have been carrying out a survey of 500 of our members, to monitor the progress they are making with BPS applications and initial results suggest things are not on track. About 30% of those expecting application forms and maps are still waiting for them.”
Mr Smith said the union’s survey also suggested some of the data included on the pre-populated forms might not relate to 2014. “We’re telling farmers to check the pre-populated data is correct because we are hearing a lot of it is not. You need to check the data very carefully.”
The union’s other major worry is the number of RLE1 forms being generated by the need to map all PIFs, he said. “We think there are tens of thousands of unmapped PIFs on farms and if the RPA is insisting they are all mapped it has an ocean of RLE1s coming its way.
“It is the wrong year to do this. The RPA is already stretched and it is biting off more than it can chew. It is kamikaze.”
Forms submitted to date
- England 5,500 forms out of 86,000
- Scotland 2,300 forms out of 21,000
- Wales 6,170 forms out of 17,000
- Northern Ireland 6,000 forms out of 30,000
Peter Walker, partner with Bury-based Wilson Wraight, agreed the new mapping rules were resulting in a large increase in RLE1 forms.
“I’m doing an RLE1 form for 90% of forms this year – last year it was 5%. It will be a big hurdle for the agency to get over.”
An RPA spokesman said Defra had been clear that the agency would be given the resources it needs to get all farmers through the claims process.
Any farmers who were worried they had not received a form should first check with their agent, if they used one, he added. “Any sent by email will have gone to the email address used for registering on the Rural Payments service – so check that mailbox, including junk and spam boxes. If farmers have not received their form by the end of April they should call the helpline on 03000 200 301.”
Current deadline – 15 May 2015
Farm leaders in Wales are calling for the deadline for SAF applications to be reviewed on 1 May, once it becomes clearer how many forms are still outstanding.
The Welsh government has taken the decision not to extend the deadline beyond 15 May because this could delay payments.
But Dr Nick Fenwick, head of policy at the Farmers Union of Wales, said he was worried that many farmers who had been caught up with lambing had yet to even look at the form.
By Friday 24 April only about 5,000 forms had been submitted to the Welsh government, which meant there were about 12,500 outstanding, he said.
“There is a huge amount of worry that people have not opened their forms yet. We’ve asked the deputy minister to consider the numbers at the beginning of May and keep the door open for an extension”
Dr Fenwick said the online system developed in Wales was working well. But he warned form completion was taking far longer than in the past. “A form that took three hours is taking 12 hours this year,” he said.
A Welsh government spokesman said by 29 April, more than 6,000 applications had been submitted which was actually three times more than it had received by the same point last year.
Current deadline – 15 June 2015
Claims submitted through Scotland’s online single application form (SAF) system are taking at least double the time to complete because of poor page-loading speed.
Allan Bowie, NFU Scotland (NFUS) president, said some of the early problems farmers had experienced did seem to have been ironed out, but the system was still frustrating farmers.
NFUS was talking to government about progress on a daily basis, conscious that the system was yet to meet peak demand, he said. “We’ve been told the system has the capacity to cope [as more farmers go online]. But we needed the extension to the deadline because it is taking farmers a lot longer,” he said.
Mr Bowie said the online SAF system was not user friendly, but farmers were trying to make it work or complete the blank paper forms that were available to them as an alternative.
A spokesman from the Scottish government said it had a team that was constantly monitoring the online system and was working “flat out” to sort any issues that arose.
“We expect around 21,000 SAFs to be submitted online and on paper and we have received over 2,300 so far. We know that the majority of applications are normally received nearer the deadline but would urge people to submit these as soon as possible.”
Current deadline – 15 May 2015
Dard expects to receive approximately 30,000 BPS applications, of which just over 6,000 have been received.
Agriculture minister Michelle O’Neill said: “With the deadline of 15 May just over two weeks away, I am appealing to farmers to help us to help you by applying now using the online service rather than the paper application.”