Drop in RPA complaints not whole picture, NFU says

Official figures showing a drop in complaints received by the Rural Payments Agency last year are not an accurate picture of how farmers feel about the agency’s performance, according to the NFU.

The RPA has published its annual report and accounts which suggest there was a significant decrease in the volume of complaints recorded during 2017-18.

New complaints fell by 54% compared with the previous year (1,356 in 2017-18, compared with 2,930 in 2016-17) and the number of outstanding complaints dropped by 40%, it said.

See also: BPS improvements will take time warns RPA chief

But Richard Wordsworth, senior BPS adviser for the NFU, warned the figures included in the annual report were in many ways “just the tip of the iceberg”.

“This [complaints] figure is just a subset of a number of queries within the RPA system. There are several layers of farmer dissatisfaction,” he said.

For example, since February 2017 farmers had been encouraged to submit a payment query form if they felt they had been subject to a payment error, but these sat outside of the formal “complaints” system.

Farmers were also seeking to resolve greening penalties and mapping errors without going down the official complaints procedure route.

However, many complained of being frustrated in their efforts by poor communication, he said.

Two years of waiting

Bedfordshire farmer Mark Forster said he was “very surprised” to hear complaints to the RPA had gone down based on his own experiences.

He is still waiting to be reimbursed more than £8,000 after two years of waiting.

Mr Forster said he and his agent had contacted the RPA numerous times over that period, but had been left feeling “fobbed off’ by people who could not resolve the problem.

He had recently been told he would be reimbursed, but when they money arrived in his bank account the payment was only £370.

He had contacted the RPA again two weeks ago, only to receive another automated email thanking him for his complaint and saying they would look into.

“We’re halfway through 2018 and this is in connection with a 2016 payment. It’s getting very tiresome.

“They are just not the slightest bit interested when you call. But I’m not going to let this go.”