Thousands of farmers in England are still being plagued by problems concerning Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) claims from previous years, according to the NFU.
A survey of union members has found 14% still had outstanding issues with applications dating back to 2015 and 2016, with 43% of these affecting the 2017 application.
A common complaint related to incorrect mapping, or land/entitlement changes leading to lower-than-expected payments being received, often caused by incorrect penalties imposed by the Rural Payments Agency (RPA).
Poor communication and explanation of issues and at times a lack of empathy caused by the RPA’s approach made matters worse, the survey found.
Furthermore, more than half of claimants surveyed (55%) said they sought professional help from land agents or consultants to complete claims this year, up from 46% in 2016.
For the 2017 BPS claim, of those who completed the forms themselves, 30% found errors with land details, which contributed to additional work. For example, 24% needed to complete the RLE1 form to make land changes and 14% had to do the additional paper field data form.
Long waiting times
Some 14% of respondents said they still needed to include a covering letter for this year’s claim, the third year of BPS.
However, the level of support provided by the RPA for 2017 BPS applications was seen as good by more than 70% of members surveyed – but some vented their frustration at long waiting times on the helpline.
Of those surveyed, 80% completed their 2017 applications online, which supports the RPA’s suggested position of 84%.
Members’ experience of using the online payments system was mixed – good-quality pre-population of data helped, as well as online mapping. But some struggled with the presentation of data in different formats and found it challenging to understand changes to land data (splits/order of fields/erroneous issues).
‘Haunted by problems’
Commenting on the survey, NFU vice-president Guy Smith said: “It’s clear that an unacceptably large proportion of farmers are still being haunted by problems yet to be rectified.
“We are still hearing from too many members who are becoming understandably angry about delays, errors and underpayments.”
The survey was based on random phone interviews with 364 members across England from 5-21 July this year.
An RPA spokesperson said: “More than 99% of eligible claimants have now received a payment, both for 2015 and 2016 BPS years.
“We know how important these payments are to farmers and that’s why we are focused on making any remaining payments as quickly as possible.”