Scots told to pay back cash after BPS loan payments blunder

The Scottish government has admitted yet another farm payments blunder – this time overpaying dozens of farmers and crofters who requested advance payments.

In the latest in a string of embarrassing IT payment errors, the government said 166 Scottish farmers and crofters had been overpaid money for their 2016 Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) loan.

The nationally-funded CAP payments loan scheme – worth £300m – was set up to give payment security after the catastrophic failure of the £178m BPS IT system last year.

See also: £300m loan pot created for BPS 2016 in Scotland

More than 12,500 of the estimated 17,000 farmers and crofters eligible to receive a BPS payment in 2016 have signed up to the loan scheme.

Successful applicants receive an advance payment of 80% of their BPS claim, with the balance to be settled at a later date.

Now it has emerged that 166 farm businesses that applied for a loan payment were overpaid. Some were paid double the amount of their claim.

Initially, the Scottish government said those affected by the latest error would be given just seven days to repay the money before interest is applied.

But a spokesman said all 166 of the farm businesses affected had been identified and the government was working with those farmers to reclaim the money.

‘Administrative error’

The Scottish government blamed an “administrative error” for the blunder.

A spokesman said: “We are contacting the very small number of farmers affected to let them know and we will ask for this money to be repaid.

“Steps have been taken to rectify the cause of this error, which is not related to the IT system, and minimise the risk of it happening again.”

Farm leaders said confidence was being further eroded in the Scottish government’s ability to pay farmers their BPS payments accurately.

Jonnie Hall, NFU Scotland’s director of policy, said: “For a simple calculation around multiplication and division to result in such an own goal will leave those affected angry and frustrated, undermining some of the goodwill built up by the timely delivery of the loan scheme.

‘Lost all confidence’

“Confidence that support delivery systems will ever be fit for purpose have also been dealt another blow.

“We all make mistakes, but it is worth reminding the Scottish government that when farmers and crofters make that sort of simple, unintentional mistake, it is taken as final – and penalties normally follow.

“When the Scottish government makes such errors, they simply ask for the money back. A more proportionate approach to unintentional errors for all involved in support schemes is long overdue.”

The Scottish Conservatives said Scottish farmers would approach 2017 having “lost all confidence” in the SNP government’s ability to process payments.

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