Mystery of the missing hill allowance millions

Hill and upland farmers face a wall of secrecy over the delay in this year’s payment of the Hill Farming Allowance, which appears to have become locked into the Single Payment Scheme fiasco.

It now looks likely that some payments will not be made until June or even later – and yet no official explanation has been given to hill farmers facing desperate cash flow problems.

The HFA payment, which was expected from late March onwards, has been made to some farmers and, of those contacted by Farmers Weekly, all had also received their SPS cheque.

Although there is no official explanation, it is believed that invalidated SPS claims relating to farms where an HFA payment is due to be made, are acting as a block on the payment.

Despite the problems within the Rural Payments Agency, it is understood that the RPA has made a request to the minister, Lord Bach, this week asking that all SPS claims containing an HFA element should be prioritised.

Cumbria farmer Will Cockbain, national NFU hill farming spokesman, said he was deeply concerned about the delay in the HFA payment.

“Hill farming is going through an incredibly difficult time.

Many farmers have had feed and fertiliser bills delayed in the hope that by now they would have had the cash to pay them.

“But the delays in the SPS and now the HFA means there’s still no cash in the bank.

The late spring and the lack of grass has put hill farms under further pressure as extra feed has had to be purchased for stock.”

It is understood that the RPA expected to pay another third of the outstanding HFA cheques before June and the rest sometime after – although exactly when has not been confirmed.

Although, Mr Cockbain believes that if there is partial payment of 80% of SPS claims it should trigger 100% of HFA payments.

Dartmoor hill farmer Layland Branfield reckoned almost 3m was outstanding in HFA payments to 150 farmers on the moor.

“I haven’t had my SPS or HFA cheques.

We’ve had a very late spring and that’s put a lot of hill farmers under tremendous pressure through having to buy-in extra feed when they have no money to pay for it.”

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