‘Double whammy’ leaves flood-hit Cumbrian farmers facing crisis

Flood-ravaged upland farmers in Cumbria are facing a “double whammy” of cleaning up the damage caused by Storm Desmond and delayed BPS payments, the NFU has warned.

Although the majority of farmers will receive their Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) payments this month, farmers who graze common land are unlikely to receive their support payments until February at the earliest.

The Rural Payments Agency (RPA) has told common-land farmers their claims are too complex to be paid at the same time as other claimants.

See also: Cumbrian farm flood claims to cost at least £20m

With milk prices, lamb prices and other commodities on the floor, the government is coming under increasing pressure to pay hill farmers and other common-land claimants part of their BPS payments as soon as possible.

NFU vice-president Guy Smith said: “There is a double whammy here. A very high percentage of English commons are to be found in Cumbria.

“So not only are many of these upland farmers struggling with the devastation of storm Desmond they are also at the end of the queue when it comes to receiving support payments.

“Consequently, we urgently call on Defra to get extra resource into the Rural Payments Agency [RPA] so they can fast-track Cumbrian claims or get part payments out.”

The RPA has written to affected farmers advising them that their entire payment will be delayed due to difficulties calculating the common land element of their claim.

Mr Smith said NFU members were becoming increasingly frustrated at receiving letters from the RPA, saying they were unlikely to receive their BPS payment by the end of January.

“The key question these people seem to be asking is ‘why me?’ he added.

“The RPA seem frustratingly tight-lipped to explain why. Our analysis is that the 15,000 who have received this letter comprises 5,000 commoners, 1,000 cross-border or probate and finally 9,000 who have had inspections.

“The double frustration for those in the ‘inspection’ category is that it may be there were no issues of relevance uncovered by the inspection and yet nothing has been heard back. We are also aware people may have been remotely inspected so are not aware of it.”

The Country, Land & Business Association (CLA), which represents 33,000 landowners in England and Wales, also called on the government to issue part payments.

CLA president Ross Murray said: “We are calling on the RPA not to hold up the parts of a claim that can be calculated simply, such as the home farm. They should get on and pay these even if there is a delay in paying the more complex elements of the claim.

“Even if they do not receive their full support payment, a home farm payment will go a long way towards helping these farmers through what will undoubtedly be a very difficult Christmas and new year.”

The RPA said it paid BPS claims totalling £261m to 33,000 farmers and landowners in England  – equivalent to 38% of the eligible 88,000 claimants – on the first day of the payments window, 1 December, which runs until June 2016.

However, an RPA spokesman said on Tuesday (8 December) the agency would not be providing “rolling figures” on BPS payments, but would issue an update “in the coming days”.

He added: “We’ll continue making BPS payments as they’re ready to pay, and are working hard to pay the remainder of claims as soon as possible.

“We remain on track to pay over half of eligible BPS claims by the end of the month and the vast majority by the end of January.”

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