The Ulster Farmers Union is to challenge a recent change to the process under which farmers can appeal any reductions or penalties applied to the money they receive under various CAP support schemes.
The move follows the introduction of a new appeals system by the department of agriculture, environment and rural affairs (Daera) on 1 April.
This effectively did away with the old two-stage appeals process, involving an independent panel of experts, replacing it with a single-stage process, involving a specialist team of officials within the single payments branch of Daera.
The guidance booklet outlining the new procedures makes clear that this team will be separate to the officials who made the original decision to recover money, which they believe was incorrectly paid out, or to challenge the eligibility of land entered into a scheme.
“Farmers will not incur any costs associated with a review of decision procedure, whether successful or not,” said a statement.
Slap in the face
But this has not satisfied the UFU, which is seeking a judicial review to challenge Daera’s decision to move to a single-stage review process.
“We don’t have any faith in a single stage-review,” said UFU president Barclay Bell. “Scrapping the right to independent appeal is a slap in the face for fair play and public accountability.
“The abolition of the right to an independent appeal essentially gives Daera absolute control.”
The UFU notes that nine organisations responded to Daera’s consultation on this issue last year – and all opposed the move to a single-stage process.
According to Mr Bell, the fact this was ignored shows that “without a minister to keep officials in check, Daera has become a law unto its own”.
“I can’t remember the last time I heard of a farmer winning a first-stage appeal,” he added. “It’s an approach that stacks the deck in favour of Daera.”
The UFU believes that, in some cases, the sums of money involved will be substantial and could be make or break for farming families.
What sort of schemes does the review process cover?
- Basic Payment Scheme (BPS)
- Greening payment
- Young farmers’ payment
- Agri-environment schemes
- Less Favoured Areas Compensatory Allowance Scheme (LFACA)
- Areas of Natural Constraint Scheme (ANC)
What sort of decisions may be subject to reviews?
- Penalties applied that result in a reduction or non-payment
- Ineligibility of land or other works found during an inspection
- Cross compliance breaches identified at inspection
How should a review be initiated?
Contact the Review of Decisions team on 0300 200 7848 or firstname.lastname@example.org and ask for an application form. Return the form within 60 days of the date on Daera’s original decision letter.