The Rural Payments Agency (RPA) will start emailing pre-populated Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) forms out next week, but fears are growing that the system is confusing and continuing delays will result in late payments to farmers.
The agency issued a statement late on Tuesday afternoon (7 April) promising that pre-populated BP5 claim forms will start to be sent out by email to everyone who has registered on the Rural Payments online system.
It added farmers will also get guidance on how to apply, via email initially, with paper copies to follow in the post.
Farmers who have not provided the RPA with an email address in the past will have their forms sent through the mail. Producers who have not received an up-to-date map of their land in the past six months will also receive a map pack by post this week.
RPA customer director Justin Chamberlain said: “From next week we will start sending out to farmers everything they need to make their claims. For now, our advice would be to get ready to apply by reading the scheme guidance, use the blank form to start to gather any information you may require and think about any help you might need.
“While we welcome confirmation that the deadline for BPS 2015 applications is now 15 June 2015, we would still advise farmers to get their claims started as early as they can so we can give them the help and support they may need.”
The fact that forms are to be emailed in the first instance will come as shock to many farmers, who were assuming the forms would be sent by mail. There is also concern that the use of both email and post may prove confusing.
Questions also remain about how long it will take the agency to get the emails out – with the RPA only committed to “start sending” emails next week.
In response, the NFU warned that it will be “complaining very loudly” if producers have not received forms by 21 April.
It added the system had become a “confusing combination” of paper and email and it would prefer to see pre-populated forms posted, along with the maps and guidance notes.
NFU vice-president Guy Smith said while the application deadline may have been extended by a month, the forms will arrive with farmers nearly two months behind the usual timetable.
The union is calling for extra resources to be allocated to the RPA, so farmers get the support they need to fill in the forms and there is the manpower in the agency to process them over the summer. In particular, it is demanding that drop-in centres offer farmer-friendly advice and have convenient opening hours.
“We are worried and don’t think it is acceptable that we’re heading towards delayed payments at the end of this system,” said Mr Smith.
“We’re calling for extra resource to be put into the system to buy back time.”