Tips for smooth Basic Payment Scheme 2021 applications

With only two months to apply for the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) 2021 in England, now’s the time to get prepared and submit applications. Alice De Soer from consultancy Rural Response gives advice on what’s changed, how to meet the BPS rules and avoid potential pitfalls.

Key dates for 2021

The main date to focus on is Monday 17 May 2021. That’s the date for:

  • Land to be “at the disposal” of the BPS 2021 applicant – this can usually be met by an owner-occupier or a tenant with a Farm Business Tenancy or an Agricultural Holdings Act 1986 tenancy
  • Transferring BPS entitlements – only the person holding the entitlements on 17 May 2021 can use them for a BPS 2021 application
  • Submitting a BPS 2021 application without late application penalties.

The Rural Payments Agency (RPA) has published a key dates document, together with all the other BPS 2021 guidance, on gov.uk.

See also: Countryside Stewardship 2021 – what farmers need to know

Applying in 2021

English BPS 2021 applications should be submitted online via the rural payments service wherever possible. If you receive a paper BP5 form, you can switch to an online application by phoning the RPA on 03000 200 301.

What’s changed?

Post-Brexit, the UK has more scope to simplify the BPS rules from this year. This means there are a number of changes for BPS 2021 applications in England. The main ones are summarised below.

1. Removal of the ‘greening’ rules

It’s no longer necessary to meet crop diversification (the two and three crop) rules or have ecological focus areas (EFAs). The maintenance of permanent grassland requirement has also gone, but you must still meet the rules if you have land in a Natura 2000 site and the environmental impact assessment (agriculture) regulations are still relevant. The value of the greening payment has been added to the BPS entitlement value.

2. No two-year entitlements usage rule

The two-year entitlements usage rule that meant all entitlements held had to be claimed in a single scheme year, once every two years, has been removed.

3. Removal of cross-border applications

For BPS applicants with land in more than one part of the UK, cross-border applications have been removed. Instead, an application should be submitted to each of the relevant paying agencies, including the land in the relevant part of the UK. There’s an exemption if this means the 5ha minimum claim requirement isn’t met on the basis of the land located in England.

4. Force majeure notification period extended

The notification period for force majeure and exceptional circumstances has been extended from 15 days to eight weeks.

5. Deadline extension for submitting supporting documents/amending applications

Provided a BPS 2021 application is submitted by 17 May 2021, it’s now possible to submit supporting documents and make certain amendments without penalty up to 11 June 2021.

BPS land eligibility

In addition to land being “at your disposal” on 17 May 2021, it must meet the two following eligibility criteria throughout 2021:

1)    It must be an agricultural area – permanent grassland, arable (including temporary grassland and fallow) or permanent crops

2)    It must be primarily used for an “agricultural activity” – either using the land for agricultural production or maintaining it in a state suitable for grazing or cultivation. There is the 28-day rule, which allows certain non-agricultural activities to be carried out on agricultural area without the land becoming ineligible for BPS.

Something to watch out for is where utility or transport works take place on the land, for example, HS2. This can mean the land is no longer eligible for BPS. Utility or transport works don’t fall under the 28-day rule provisions. If this happens before you submit your BPS 2021 application, exclude the affected area. If it’s after you’ve submitted your application, request that the RPA withdraws the land from the application. It may be necessary to seek compensation for any loss of BPS payments from the organisation carrying out the works.

Other aspects that could affect BPS eligibility of land include: carrying out permitted non-agricultural activities for more than 28 days in the calendar year; flooding; the presence of trees; and agri-environment/woodland schemes. Read the BPS 2021 scheme rules for more information on this.

Transferring land and entitlements online

Wherever possible, transfer land and entitlements online using the rural payments service. This must be done by 17 May 2021.

To transfer land online, it needs to show as 100%-owned on the “Transfer land” screen. If the status needs to be updated to 100%-owned, use the land tenure form (available on gov.uk) to ask the RPA to update it. You should then be able to transfer it online.

Land in an existing agri-environment scheme agreement shouldn’t be transferred online. This is because that permanently breaks the link between the agreement holder’s Single Business Identifier (SBI) and the land parcel(s). Instead, use the e-RLE1 form (download from gov.uk) and mark on the front page “Dual use – maintain link to existing SBI”.

The “add land” email route can also be used to ask the RPA to link a land parcel to an SBI so it shows on the BPS 2021 application. This is only possible if the land is already mapped and there aren’t any outstanding updates. Email the RPA by 3 May 2021 for BPS applications. See gov.uk for guidance.

Amending BPS applications

After a BPS application has been submitted by the 17 May 2021 deadline, it’s possible to make certain amendments to land until midnight on 11 June 2021 without penalty. This allows:

  • A land parcel to be added
  • The eligible area to be increased
  • The area to be claimed on to be increased.

These amendments can’t be made if: you’ve been told about a “non-compliance” affecting the land; or there’s been an inspection that’s found a non-compliance; or you’ve been given advance notice of an inspection.

To amend an online application after 17 May 2021, you need to create a new application online, make the changes, submit it and then email the RPA (ruralpayments@defra.gov.uk). The email should explain these are amendments to an already-submitted application. Read the “How to apply online for BPS in 2021” guidance on gov.uk for more information.

Check digital maps

View digital maps on the rural payments service (from “Business overview”, click ‘Land’ and ‘View land’). You need to check:

  • The correct land parcels are linked to your SBI – if that needs to be changed, transfer land online, use the “add land” email route or e-RLE1 form
  • The “land cover” – this is mapped as arable, permanent grassland, permanent crops or non-agricultural area. If it needs to be updated, use an e-RLE1 form. The mapped land cover needs to tie in with the land-use code you’re declaring. For example, if the land use is wheat, the land cover should be mapped as arable. Land cover is mapped, land use codes are not. Only permanent non-agricultural areas need to be mapped, not temporary ones. Temporary non-agricultural areas should simply be declared as NA02 on the “Land use” screen
  • Permanent boundaries are correctly mapped – use the e-RLE1 form to update these.

What to watch out for

  • Read the guidance – things have changed
  • Check digital maps – request mapping updates
  • Carefully check the claimed area C8 by going to “Activate less BPS area” screen
  • Save a copy of the submitted application summary PDF – the information is live and may change post-submission

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