Agency makes pledge on paper-based subsidy claims

Farmers in England who submit full paper-based applications for the new Basic Payment Scheme will see their claims properly processed and paid, the government has pledged.

Rural Payments Agency chief executive Mark Grimshaw made the promise after an embarrassing U-turn which saw the agency finally abandon its £154m online application system and announce that farmers must now submit claims on paper instead – for this year at least.

See also: We will pay farmers on time, insists minister

The fiasco saw Mr Grimshaw and Defra secretary Liz Truss both summoned to explain their decision and actions to MPs.

The pair sat side by side as they gave evidence to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee on Wednesday (25 March).

The core system was working, said Mr Grimshaw. The problem was the front end of the system used by farmers – in particular the online mapping system and the lack of capacity which meant not enough users could enter information at the same time.

A significant software upgrade earlier this month to improve the speed of the mapping facility failed to deliver, added Mr Grimshaw.

For farmers and landowners to make accurate submissions on time, it was necessary to revert to “tried and tested” paper applications.

Mr Grimshaw said: “From a farmers perspective, provided [farmers in England] have a fully completed BP5, which is the paper application form, and a marked-up map, and a declaration to us by midnight on 15 June, that will be considered a full application.”

The agency was in the process of sending out maps to customers, said Mr Grimshaw.

All eligible farmers who needed maps would have them by the end of the second week in April, he added. Once completed and returned, agency staff would then input all necessary data into the system.

Data already entered into the online system by farmers and their agents was safe and would be used by the RPA to process claims, said Mr Grimshaw. Those claims would be paid within the payment window, which runs from December 2015 to June 2016.

Ms Truss said: “It would have been the best option to be able to have all the farmers able to map those details online – it would have saved a lot of time and energy.

“But given that it wasn’t working as fast as we were wanting it to work, we then had to switch to an alternative way.”

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