The Rural Payments Agency (RPA) is coming under pressure to outline its Basic Payments Scheme (BPS) schedule as thousands of farmers remain unclear when they can expect their money.
In contrast to previous years, when the RPA has been quick to announce early performance figures in the days after the annual payment window opening on 1 December, this year there has been silence.
Earlier this year, the RPA’s responsibility for communications was moved Defra, whereas in the past the agency made all its own announcements.
RPA chief executive Paul Caldwell has promised at least 90% of eligible claimants in England will receive their 2017 BPS money in December.
The NFU urged farmers who have not yet received their money not to panic, as it understands that the agency intends to stagger its processing of payments across the month.
“The RPA has given us the heads-up that this year is going to be a more continuous, regular stream of payments going out over the whole of December,” said NFU vice-president Guy Smith.
“Previously, its approach to BPS payments was like a random volcano – you never knew when it was going to spew out a load of money.
“But the pattern has changed. We are going to withhold judgement on their performance until the end of December.”
Farmers who receive their BPS claim statements should promptly check against their claims, he added.
As in previous years, thousands of farmers with cross-border claims, inspection cases and large commons are facing delays into 2018.
The NFU said the RPA must identify which of the 88,000 or so eligible claimants face payment delays – and inform them by letter as soon as possible “to allow farm businesses to plan accordingly”.
“It’s important this year, in light of the RPA’s remapping exercise, that people are not left in the dark,” said Mr Smith.
“People who have been inspected are unlikely to be paid in December. We think the RPA should consider bridging loans to cover late payments.”
The NFU is also urging banks to be sympathetic to any farmers who can demonstrate they have cashflow problems this winter because of delays in receiving their Countryside Stewardship or BPS payments.
TFA reserves judgment
George Dunn, chief executive of the Tenant Farmers’ Association (TFA), said: “The RPA has told us not to judge them too early on their December performance.
“It [payments] will start as a trickle and become more of a flood towards the end of the month. However, it is encouraging that we have heard from some farmers with complicated cases who have already been paid.”
A Defra spokeswoman said it would release figures on the RPA’s early BPS payment performance soon.
Inspection mix-up leaves Gloucestershire farmer facing payment delay
Gloucestershire farmer Michael Parry is facing a delay in receiving his BPS payment after an inspection report failed to turn up at his home or the RPA offices.
The inspection at Roundhill Farm, near Stow-on-the-Wold, took place in mid-July and Mr Parry says the inspector rang him afterwards to say there were no problems.
He didn’t think anything more of it until his BPS payment failed to arrive in his bank account this week.
On ringing the RPA – which he says involved huge bureaucracy in its own right – he was told that he should have received the inspector’s report about a week after she visited and that the RPA had also not received the report.
When he asked more about the inspector, he was given a different name to that which the inspector gave on her visit.
He asked why the RPA had not chased up the report and was told the date of inspections was not recorded, just whether or not the farm had been inspected.
Mr Parry estimates he is owed about £46,000. His farm account is currently empty and he has to renew his overdraft in January, as well as pay a number of bills.
He is concerned because he has a 100% credit record for his farm and does not want that to be compromised.
But trying to get the issue sorted is proving to be a “bureaucratic nightmare”, said Mr Parry.
BPS update from across the UK
Loan offers based on 90% of anticipated 2017 CAP BPS and greening payments have been made to nearly 17,500 eligible farmer and crofters.
By 30 November, the Scottish government had paid 13,129 farmers and crofters in Scotland their 90% BPS advance payment, worth £306.8m.
“We would encourage everyone who has been made an offer to consider taking up the offer,” said a government spokesman.
Farmers and crofters will receive the balance of their BPS payments between March and June 2018.
More than 91% of Basic Payments were made on the first day of the payment window (1 December), with £201m paid into the bank accounts of 14,111 Welsh farm businesses.
Lesley Griffiths, Wales’ environment and rural affairs secretary, said: “It is a tribute to the way Welsh farmers have embraced new technology, Rural Payments Wales [RPW] Online, and made the new system such a success.”
Glyn Roberts, president of the Farmers’ Union of Wales, said farmers were grateful RPW had hit its target of paying at least 90% of farmers in December. But he urged rapid progress on paying the remaining 9% of farms.
Advance payments at 70% of the BPS claim value were made to 21,111 farmers – 91% of eligible claimants – in October, totalling £158m.
The NI Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (Daera) said it had started to issue the balance/full payments from 1 December.
“The department remains committed to making payments as quickly as possible and is on track to issue full or balance payments to 95% of eligible farmers in December,” said a Daera spokesman.