‘RPA must bridge funding gap for cash-starved farmers’

The NFU is demanding early bridging payments for farmers who face a long and uncertain wait to receive their 2016 Basic Payment subsidy cash.

The Rural Payment Agency (RPA) said more than 59,000 farmers – 59% of eligible claimants in England – were paid their 2016 BPS money in the first two days of the payment window (1-2 December).

But the payments processed to date are worth just £660m in value – representing 39% of the UK’s £1,68bn total BPS money pot.

See also: RPA pays Basic Payment to 59% of farmers

The NFU said feedback suggested one-third of its members had received their 2016 BPS payments.

NFU vice-president Guy Smith said the RPA had made a “good start” in its bid to meet its own target of paying 90% of eligible claims in December.

But he added: “We remain concerned that the RPA are not clear when the remaining 10% will be paid.

“If the RPA cannot guarantee a payment to this identified 10% early in 2017 then bridging payments must be considered sooner rather than later.”

Thousands waiting for 2015 cash

Furthermore, it was clear that thousands were still waiting for full payment from 2015 BPS claims, Mr Smith said.

“Our concern is this work is being put on hold while 2016 payments are got out. Clearly the RPA is still stretched and not fully on top of the job with IT functionality issues.”

Liberal Democrats leader Tim Farron said news that the RPA had paid nearly 60% of 2016 BPS claims was “scant consolation” for farmers still waiting for 2015 payments.

“The RPA’s handling of farm payments last year was atrocious, so I welcome what appears to be an improvement in this year’s scheme,” added South Lakes MP Mr Farron.

The RPA said it remained “focused” on paying 90% of BPS claims by the end of December and was not considering bridging payments.

In Wales, nearly 90% of eligible farmers were paid their BPS money in the first week of the payment window opening – up from 40% last year.

But in Scotland, 166 farmers and crofters were told to pay back cash this week after the Scottish government blamed an “administrative error” for yet another BPS IT payments blunder.

BPS appeals review

Meanwhile, in Northern Ireland, farm minister Michelle Mcllveen has announced a review of the BPS payment appeals system.

The introduction of CAP Reform area-based schemes has led to an “unprecedented increase” in the number of farmers submitting BPS “Review of Decisions” applications, said the NI Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs.

Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) president Barclay Bell said: “Farmers remain frustrated by the time it takes for a final review decision to be taken, with some cases still not closed even after a few years.

“Any delay creates a great deal of uncertainty for those who have bills to pay and a business to run.”

Foil the BPS fraudsters 

The RPA is urging farmers to be vigilant against fraud. Remember:

  • Your bank, police or the RPA will never ask you to reveal your online password, PIN or bank account details or ask you to make a payment over the telephone
  • Never enter into a conversation with someone you don’t know or open unknown or unexpected computer links or emails.
  • If in doubt, call the organisation back, ideally on a different telephone, using a number you are familiar with or you know to be official. You can usually find this on the organisation’s website, correspondence or statement.
  • Contact Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040 without delay for advice and to register your concern.
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