Mark GrimshawMark Grimshaw © Tim Scrivener

The Rural Payments Agency (RPA) says it is on track to meet its target of delivering 90% of support payments to farmers in England by 31 December. But one in 10 farmers will still have to wait until next year for their money.

With just days before the payment window opens on 1 December, agency chief executive Mark Grimshaw confirmed to MPs he expects to pay most eligible farmers by the end of the year – including some recipients with more complex claims.

See also: Unpaid farmers consider BPS appeals

“We are making good progress – we’re pleased we are where we have got to at this point in the year – we are looking good for the 90% at the end of December,” Mr Grimshaw told members of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Efra) Select Committee on Tuesday (22 November).

Mr Grimshaw said the agency had also “turned the corner” and was improving its communications with farmers.

This week, it sent out 80,000 letters and leaflets explaining what they can expect as part of the payments process (see ‘Agency determined to improve performance’, below).

Beat target

After paying 90% of farmers during December, the agency aims to pay a further 3% of claimants by the end of March 2017, with the remainder paid after that.

However, Mr Grimshaw said he hoped to beat this target, including settling more complicated claims and commons payments sooner.

Farmers not paid during December will be contacted in January with more information about the progress with their claim, what will happen next and whether they are likely to receive a payment before – or after – March 2017.

Speaking after the evidence session, Efra committee chairman Neil Parish told Farmers Weekly he was “reasonably satisfied” with Mr Grimshaw’s promises.

Mr Parish, Conservative MP for Tiverton and Honiton, said he was also conscious that some farmers, including commons claims, were still waiting for payments for 2015.

Right things

“I want to make sure the agency is properly dealing with them.” said Mr Parish.

“He is doing a lot of the right things, but one has to question whether he couldn’t have done them a little bit sooner. That is the issue.

“What we will be watching now is that he does deliver.

“I want to be sure commoners are not put through all the pain they were put through last year.

“It appears they will be paid quicker this year and I hope that is the case.”

Agency determined to improve performance

The Rural Payments Agency (RPA) insists it is determined to do better with 2016 payments than last year – when thousands of farmers were kept waiting months to receive their money.

“We will be making full payments from 1 December, based on the details in each claim, and we’re making improvements to the service we offer,” said an RPA update sent out this week in a bid to improve the way the agency communicates with farmers.

This year, farmers will be able to track the progress of their claim online – even if they applied on paper.

The agency said it will also be making reports available for those applicants who receive an aerial or on-farm inspection.

Shortly after each BPS is made, the agency will send out remittance advice in the post, confirming the amount paid.

A claim statement will follow – again by post – explaining how the RPA has calculated the final value of the claim.

These statements will be sent out from February.

The agency says it doesn’t necessarily mean there is anything wrong with a claim if it is among the 10% which will be paid after December, just that they are more complicated.

From January, farmers who remain unpaid will be assigned a dedicated agency caseworker, who will provide updates on the progress of their claim.

BPS Watch – keeping tabs on payments

Ongoing delays in 2015 support payments caused huge cashflow problems, stress and anxiety for thousands of farmers.

That is why Farmers Weekly has launched “BPS Watch”, designed to hold Defra and the Rural Payments Agency to account for their promises.

Our initiative – which will also cover Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – will focus on farmers and feature regular stories and payment updates, as we strive to keep government departments and agencies on track.