Farmers submitting their single farm payment applications were dealt a double blow this week.
The Rural Payments Agency warned farmers to expect disruptions to its services on Thursday (10 May) due to planned industrial action by the Public and Commercial Services Union.
An RPA spokeswoman said: “This will directly affect RPA. While we have robust business continuity plans in place to limit the impact on farmers, it is likely there will be some disruption to normal services.”
Frustrated farmers have also been experiencing technical problems using the online service to submit their single farm payment applications.
For a 10-day period until Wednesday (8 May), farmers had been reporting that the service was slow and users were being ejected from the system with the words “Bad Gateway” appearing on screen.
The timing could not be worse for many farmers and landowners, who have been trying to complete their applications online before the 15 May deadline. “It’s shocking that the RPA can have an online submission service that is not working at the busiest time of the year,” said George Paton, a partner at farm consultancy firm WebbPaton.
“We still have 34 SP5s to submit and because the online system is slow, it’s taking longer to do. We have had to move over to paper submissions.Mr Paton said the RPA should have warned people there was a problem with the online system.
“It’s wrong for the RPA to have been encouraging everyone to use the online system, only to find that it has ground to a halt for the past 10 days,” he added.
The RPA confirmed it became apparent from mid-afternoon on Tuesday that some customers were experiencing slow service or inability to access SPS online.“The issue was resolved last night (Tuesday) and the service is working normally today.
“We would like to encourage customers to submit their applications early rather than leaving it until the last day. Online remains the fastest and most efficient way to submit an application,” said the spokeswoman.
Up to Wednesday (9 May), the RPA had received 68,000 claims for SPS 2012 applications, of which 31,500 (46%) have been submitted online.
In 2011, more than 31,000 farmers out of about 105,000 completed their SP5 form online. The agency said it wanted this number to increase significantly this year.