Go online to save time and money. That’s the message from the Rural Payments Agency ahead of the 16 May deadline for submitting 2011 SPS applications.
Around 16,000 farmers and agents completed their SPS applications electronically last year, and more are expected to do so this spring. One such person is Mike Rodgers, estates manager at North Frith Farm, Tonbridge, Kent. He used the online form for the first time last year and believes others should give it a go.
“It can be a bit daunting at first, but until you try these things you don’t know how successful they’ll be. SPS Online is really just another useful way of dealing with a desk full of paper. I think it’ll only be a matter of time before the RPA demands we all return online.”
Mr Rodgers started using online data submission five years ago to enter June and December census figures and cross compliance checks through DEFRA’s Whole Farm Approach portal. This has since moved to the farming section of Business Link, through which he also submits his SPS application. “We were already submitting a lot of data online, so it made sense to return as much as possible, and our single payment application was a natural progression.”
He says the 2010 online application took about the same time to complete as the paper form, mainly due to double-checking figures were entered correctly.
But having now completed it once online, this year’s process was a lot quicker, he says. “I got an email to say my 2011 details were ready, so all I had to do was log on to check everything was correct – it hardly took any time at all. To have done our 2011 claim by the end of March is great.”
Peace of mind
One of the big advantages of online SPS submission is the peace of mind it affords, Mr Rodgers says. “The thing to remember is the common mistakes can’t get through the computer system as it automatically checks for errors.
“You can also print it off and check it as many times as you like before clicking submit. Once it’s been submitted you get instant on-screen confirmation and email confirmation within minutes, so you don’t have to worry whether the RPA’s received it. You don’t have the postage cost and you can track application progress online.”
Anyone feeling particularly daunted by the web-based system could complete the paper form first, then input data online, he suggests. “It means filling the form twice, but might help ease the process.”
Extra peace of mind can be provided by backing up the form electronically and with a printed paper copy, he says.
While Mr Rodgers has got on well with the online system, he acknowledges there is room for improvement. “If you’ve got a relatively simple application, it’s worth having a go. But if you have complications already, such as lots of field changes or mapping errors, it’s better to get them ironed out first. The reason we didn’t use the online submission until last year was because the RPA hadn’t sorted out and signed off our maps. Once they’d done that, we were happy to give it a go.
“If there’s anything you’re unsure of, put a covering letter in explaining what you’ve done and why.”
The system requires access to a reliable internet connection, which could be a problem in some rural areas, he adds. “We’re fortunate to have good broadband, which normally runs at 1-2Mbps.”
Another issue is the SP11 Entitlements Declaration form for changing the order of activation for entitlements cannot be submitted online. This has to be downloaded and posted with the relevant bar code attached. “It seems like a relatively simple thing to change, but it’s the second year running we’ve asked for SP11 online and it still hasn’t happened.”
Anyone getting an agent or manager to submit an application on their behalf must also remember that authorisation from the claimant is required the first time they do it, he adds.
What’s your experience of using SPS online? Tell us at www.fwi.co.uk/forums
• SPS handbook – section Q, p66-68
• RPA advice line, 0845 603 7777, firstname.lastname@example.org