An email sent on the 29 February confirming that farmers were not going to be paid their annual subsidy in February has been criticised by the NFU.
The message is the latest in a series of “letters of doom” to be sent by the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) to claimants still waiting to be paid under the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS).
Its arrival with farmers has been described as “shambolic communications” by the NFU’s vice-president Guy Smith.
“To tell someone on 29 February that they aren’t going to be paid in February is an interesting exercise,” said Mr Smith.
“Yet again the RPA communications to those anxiously waiting for payment is so bad you couldn’t make it up.
“People want to know when they will get paid and not that they haven’t been paid already. It isn’t professional or sophisticated communications.”
People had been confused by the latest message and left with no clear idea of when they could expect their money to arrive, he added.
The email told farmers that the agency was “aiming” to pay them in March, but if this was not possible they would contact them again towards the end of the month.
Last week, the RPA promised that “almost all” eligible farmers would receive their payments by the end of March with a few thousand of the more complex cases “taking slightly longer”.
But Mr Smith said there were still questions about what the agency classed as “almost all”.
The NFU’s belief was that it should mean at least 95% of claims, he added.
Mr Smith said that anecdotal reports that some farmers were also finding that they had been paid less than they expected were another concern, although until everyone’s claim statements had arrived on farm it was difficult to judge the problem.
No one was expecting the same level of payments as last year because of differences in the scheme and in exchange rates.
But he added: “It is a concern that we are hearing from a lot of people that they were anticipating more money.”
It has been a bad week for the RPA, which has also been criticised by MPs for the poor implementation of the new BPS system in two separate reports.
The Public Accounts Committee claimed late payments were down to the “dysfunctional leadership” of the three bodies involved in rolling out the BPS.
Meanwhile, the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Efra) select committee said it was “unacceptable” that producers were still facing lengthy delays.
The Efra committee has recommended that the RPA “must return to paying at least 90% of BPS monies by the end of December each year”.