Agency misses target to pay ‘nearly all’ BPS claims by April

The Rural Payments Agency (RPA) has failed to meet its own target to pay “nearly all” farmers their 2015 basic payment by 1 April.

RPA chief executive Mark Grimshaw recently told MPs that between 92% and 95% of eligible farmers would receive their payment by the end of March.

As Farmers Weekly went to press on Wednesday (30 March), the agency said it had paid just 73,846 claimants, which was 85% of the total. That was worth £1.16bn out of £1.4bn owing.

See also: Farmers warned to get BPS entitlement transfers started

NFU vice-president Guy Smith said: “April is upon us and quite clearly the RPA have not paid the 92-95% they said they would.

“My message to the RPA is: stop taking us for fools, something clearly hasn’t gone to plan so what exactly is the problem?

“When will it be fixed and when can the 10,000-plus still waiting for payment expect to be paid?”

Meanwhile, the RPA has started distributing BPS 2015 claim statements. So far more than 53,000 have been sent out, with a further 12,000 set to go next week. The forms explain to farmers the value of their claim, how it has been calculated, including any penalties and reductions.

The NFU and agents say they have received numerous reports of farmers receiving lower payments than expected for over-declaration penalties and mapping irregularities. As a result, many were “drowning” the RPA call centre, with some waiting “40-deep” for up to one hour to get through.

One land agent told Farmers Weekly: “Today I phoned to find I was number 63 in the queue… My client and I know the RPA have made a mistake and penalised the business unnecessarily. The penalty and the lack of BPS payment equates to £5,600.”

But an RPA spokesman said: “The payments we make are based on the entitlements and eligible land data we hold on the Rural Payments service.

“Payments could be less than last year because of factors such as the exchange rate, a new calculation method and the optional greening element.

“It is also possible that not completing the claim to the level of detail required could also change the value of a payment.”

The NFU urged people not to call the RPA unnecessarily and not to take their frustrations out on RPA call centre staff. “It’s clear the RPA need more people with more information answering the phone,” said Mr Smith.

In Wales, NFU Cymru said patience was wearing “extremely thin” among the estimated 5% of farmers still waiting to receive their BPS part payment (80% of claim value).

NFU Cymru president Stephen James said: “I am particularly concerned for our cross-border farmers who have not yet been paid because of the failure of the paying agencies in England and Wales to effectively share data.”

In Scotland, latest figures show 63% of farmers and crofters have now been paid, equivalent to 11,433 individuals. However, NFU Scotland said these figures meant only about half the government’s pot had been distributed.