Farmers raise concerns over BPS digital rollout

The Rural Payments Agency (RPA) is coming under increasing pressure to roll out the new CAP digital payments scheme more quickly, Farmers Weekly understands.

Defra said previously that the majority of 100,000 customers would be invited to register for the online service “around late October”.

See also: Tech-challenged farmers offered CAP digital help

But with the start of November just days away, farmers, landowners and consultants are becoming impatient for the new system. There are also questions being asked about whether the registration process is too complex.

An industry source said: “The registration process is meant to be up and running by now. This is step one of the rollout and they have failed to clear it in line with their timetable, which doesn’t bode well for the rest of the rollout procedure.”

One senior rural adviser, who has been heavily involved with the planning for the digital rollout, told Farmers Weekly there had been a “few hiccups” with the government’s new system for proving users’ identity.

As part of the CAP reform process, claimants who are registered RPA customers must authenticate their details by creating a new Identity Assurance (IDA) account, which replaces the Government Gateway.

To do this, they must register through a third party identity assurance provider, such as the Post Office, Experian or Verizon, which has the job of verifying IDAs.

One source told Farmers Weekly: “I have gone through the ID assurance system and that worked very well. I know others are having teething problems with it.

“I went through the Experian route and it worked. But you have got to have a lot of information available at your fingertips. It is not going to be a straightforward process for some farmers. As soon as it goes live, people need to get on to it.

“The IDA route is a requirement of EU – it’s not Defra or the RPA instigating it. The guys I’m talking to are really concerned about this. They want it to work and are trying their hardest.”

Another source said: “During tests, claimants were asked to answer questions such as: the postcode where they lived first, how much their monthly mortgage payments are, their passport number, credit card and banking details.

“They found the questions were too detailed and some people were just not going to get through this first part. This is an external provider outside the CAP delivery team’s control.

“Although this hasn’t delayed the rollout per se. It has created background work to make sure that claimants can meet the requirements in order to register.”

Evidence of some of the problems users have experienced when registering for IDA is clear by comments posted on Defra’s online CAP reform blog.

Farmer Simon Caudwell said: “Unable to register with Experian. Been through the whole process twice now and talked to Experian helpline on both occasions but they are still unable to make it work. Latest advice is to leave it until next week and try again!”

Davina Emmett commented: “This couldn’t be more complicated if you tried – we are farmers not computer experts!”

In response to the comments, a worker on the CAP Digital delivery programme, said the feedback would help the team make improvements to the service. Defra has said from the start that its rollout would be done on an iterative basis.

Farmers applying in 2015 for the new Basic Payment Scheme (BPS), which replaces the current Single Payment Scheme (SPS), will need to use the new CAP Information Service. The digital-only service is due to go live in early 2015.

The NFU said members understood that the new registration process would be “very different and more complex”, but some were feeling frustrated still to be waiting for the system to go live.

NFU vice-president Guy Smith said some farmers were “clearly haunted” by memories of the flawed IT system the RPA introduced 10 years ago. And farmers were seeking reassurances from Defra that there will not be a repeat of the disaster this time round.

“With only 50 shopping days until Christmas, next May seems a long way off, but given the enormity of this challenge we really would like to see significant progress on registration before the decorations go up,” he added.

In July, RPA chief executive Mark Grimshaw warned that the government agency was entering “one of the most challenging periods in its history” . He said delivering the new payments system would be a “tough task”.

A Defra spokesman said: “The new CAP Information Service will make managing an application simple and effective without the need to fill in paper forms.

“We have been gradually introducing customers to try the beta version, and we are improving the system based on the feedback we are getting all the time. Once we are satisfied this feedback has been addressed we will continue to increase the number of customers invited to join.

“This has always been the plan and we will be inviting more and more customers to register throughout the autumn.”

The spokesman added: “ Verify is the new online security system that checks and protects your identity so that customers can use the CAP Information System safely.

“This is a new system and improvements are being made all the time. Advice is also available on to help customers through the Verify process.”

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