U-turn over single payment compensation

DEFRA secretary Hilary Benn has agreed to pay additional compensation to two farmers for stress and anxiety caused by delayed Single Payments.

A further 22 farmers could also be in line for compensation after the government caved in to pressure on the issue.

Mr Benn had been asked by to reconsider DEFRA’S response to a parliamentary ombudsman report on the administration of the payments scheme.

The report, published before Christmas, had criticised the Rural Payments Agency’s handling of the single farm payment.

The failures of the scheme had taken a personal and financial toll on farmers, it warned.

Parliamentary ombudsman Ann Abraham branded the agency “arrogant” for failing to face up to its errors.

She also criticised it for refusing to go through records to properly compensate those farmers affected by payment delays after the scheme was introduced in 2005.

DEFRA had accepted that a personal apology should be sent to the farmers mentioned in the report, along with a consolatory payment where justified.

But it had argued that there was no basis for making further payments related to financial losses.

Mr Benn has now changed his mind after receiving a letter from Tony Wright, chairman of the Public Administration Select Committee.

In a response to Mr Wright, published on Friday (5 March), Mr Benn said he now accepted the report’s recommendations in full.

Additional compensation recommended for the two farmers – known as Mr W and Mr Y – would now be paid as soon as possible, wrote Mr Benn.

He added: “We will work with the ombudsman’s office on the remaining 22 complaints to assess what are the most appropriate and cost-effective remedies to their particular circumstances.”

The situation should be resolved within three months, said Mr Benn.

It was unlikely that there would be any “snow-ball” effect beyond the 24 cases, he added.

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