The Rural Payments Agency is stepping up its efforts to help tech-challenged farmers and landowners get online for the new farm payments scheme.
Over the coming weeks, thousands of farmers and food producers across England will be getting a phone call from the RPA to ensure they will be able to claim payments in 2015.
Defra is building a new digital-only online system to make it “as easy as possible” for farmers to get their money.
Access to the new online application and payments system will be via a new government service called Gov.uk Verify, which can certify that users are who they say they are.
In September, the agency promised extra support for farmers who can’t get online to complete their applications digitally.
The RPA sent letters to 13,000 carefully selected farmers and landowners which research had shown were most likely to need help to get online.
Most of these customers had never contacted them digitally – either by online application or even by email. And the letter asked if they needed help to make Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) claims in 2015.
The RPA has received just under 4,000 replies and its specially trained RPA agents are now telephoning all those who responded to help them assess what extra help might be required.
RPA chief executive Mark Grimshaw said: “After speaking with our advisers, many customers have indicated they thought they could get the help they needed from a friend, family member or a business contact.
“Others decided to seek advice from a local community or farming support organisation, while some opted to employ a farm agent.
“For those who have decided to seek help elsewhere, we will continue to track their progress to ensure their application is registered online in time for the 2015 application window [which will have the usual 15 May deadline without penalties].”
The RPA has promised to open regional digital support centres, which will offer appointments for one-to-one sessions for farmers and landowners who need the most help to make the switch to BPS.
Three trial centres have been set up in Exeter, Penrith and Carlisle, but the agency is looking at opening another 46 sites throughout England, several of which could be operational in the new year.
The RPA has promised that farmers will not have to travel more than 30 miles to get support at their nearest centre.
However, to date, only a small number of farmers contacted have booked to attend a special session at their local RPA-run support centre.
Sessions are strictly by appointment only and can be booked by calling the RPA helpline 0345 603 7777.