CLA and NFU have written to Defra Secretary of State Liz Truss MP to encourage her to urgently take a public and proactive role in leading the response to criticisms of the 2015 Basic Payment Scheme and the consequences for 2016.
With financial hardship cases mounting, anxiety rising among BPS claimants, farmers expressing growing concerns about the 2016 scheme and the demands on voluntary organisations creating considerable difficulties for the third sector, we want to know that Defra have put sufficient resources and plans in place to manage these problems effectively.
We have asked the Secretary of State for urgent assurances in the following 4 key areas:
- When will the 2015 payments round be completed and when can those receiving a 50% bridging payment expect to be paid in full?
- Will the RPA have sufficient staff resource to support and resolve post-payment adjustments before the end of August and will such cases receive interest on outstanding payments?
- What safeguards will Defra give to 2016 BPS applicants that they will not be penalised for RPA’s maladministration, especially given unexplained changes to 2015 application data and payments in the coming months on issues created since the delivery of the BPS in spring 2015?
- Will RPA’s system allow applicants to make timely applications before the window closes on 16 May?
CLA President Ross Murray said: “Throughout the last year, we have been focused on providing practical assistance to the RPA in managing the basic payment scheme and ensuring the right information is provided to farmers about their payment. We want to continue doing so but this is only possible if the RPA is absolutely clear about the problems that they are experiencing. In due course we will need a full understanding of what has gone wrong but for now we must all pull together to help those in most need.”
NFU Vice-President Guy Smith, who is still to receive his own BPS payments said: “We need the Secretary of State to now show firm leadership on this issue and give some much needed guarantees to our members.
“Last week we received the announcement that the RPA would be making 50% bridging payments to those yet to receive full payments, but ministers should not be surprised that this latest decision by the RPA has created further distrust rather than assurance amongst farmers.”
Non-payment is not the only concern for NFU and CLA as we are concerned about the significant number of farmers that believe they have not been paid what they expected to receive. Three quarters of NFU Council said they doubted the accuracy of their 2015 payments and it is also the main query being dealt with by CLA advisers in the past 6 weeks. This suspicion is causing significant distress for those who have examined their 2016 pre-populated forms to find their data submitted in 2015 applications altered and added too without explanation.
Speaking last week Mr Smith had said: “When will the remaining thousands of farmers be paid the full amount and why wasn’t this part payment made before?
“More widely we still want to know what the problem is with getting payments out and why the RPA failed to meet promises of payment made as recently as March. Our worry is that this is some sort of intrinsic IT problem that the RPA is struggling to fix. If this is the case it may come back to haunt us in the 2016 application year.”
The NFU and CLA have jointly said in the letter that both our organisations have experienced a dramatic increase in contact from concerned farmers over BPS, with NFU call centres calls doubling week on week during April so far.