The NFU has voiced “real concern” that the online system for the new Basic Payment Scheme continues to lack the functionality for farmers to complete applications.
More than 35,000 of an expected 87,000 applicants have now registered on the system, according to Defra.
But those who have done now face an uncertain wait before they can complete their applications because many vital features are missing.
Speaking at the Norfolk Farming Conference, NFU policy director Andrew Clark said farmers were frustrated at the system’s lack of functionality.
This included entitlements, which were expected in January, eligibility and the poor performance of the online mapping system.
“We need to know when that functionality is going to be made available,” Dr Clark told delegates at the John Innes Centre, Norwich, on Thursday (12 February). “One of the irritations of the situation at the moment is that we do not have a clear timescale.”
With the 15 May deadline for farmers now just 12 weeks away, Dr Clark said it was worrying that Rural Payments Agency (RPA) staff continued to talk about adding functionality to the system in the coming months, rather than within days.
Farmers were finding it difficult to get to grips with the new system, said Dr Clark. “The experience that our members and county advisers are giving us is that the functionality that is claimed to be available isn’t as available as it might appear. There are real concerns.”
Defra secretary Liz Truss said the gradual rollout of the system was deliberate rather than accidental. Rather than a “big bang”, components were being built up gradually with a focus on land mapping, which was a crucial part of the system.
Ms Truss said government was making sure it was “ready to go” by the deadline. “At the moment, the functionality is in place for you to go in, put in features on land and put in the area in the system,” she told conference delegates.
“That is what is required for making a claim. Yes, it needs to be digitised but what is required for making a claim is making sure the numbers are accurate. That is on the critical path to get to the deadline, rather than the digitisation of specific features like ponds and hedges.”