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Farmers welcome progress on late subsidy payments - but want more improvements

PUBLISHED: 12:31 17 December 2019 | UPDATED: 12:55 17 December 2019

Guy Smith, deputy president of the National Farmers' Union, has called for further improvements in the timely delivery of support payments to farmers. Picture: NFU

Guy Smith, deputy president of the National Farmers' Union, has called for further improvements in the timely delivery of support payments to farmers. Picture: NFU

NFU

Farming leaders have welcomed the government's improved performance in delivering subsidy payments to farmers on time - but said more progress is still needed on agri-environment claims.

After attracting criticism for late payments in previous years, the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) has announced that more than 92pc of farmers received their 2019 Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) money in the first two weeks of this year's payment window, by December 13.

The agency also says farmers who claimed on their Countryside Stewardship (CS) and Environmental Stewardship (ES) agreements in 2019 will receive one full payment this year, as part of a "wider improvement plan to deliver a better service to farmers and land managers".

This means payments have started to arrive with customers four months earlier than last year, with £77.8m ES and £4.3m CS payments made so far in a payment window which runs between December 2019 and June 2020.

RPA chief executive Paul Caldwell, said: "We are committed to ensuring timely payments to farmers and land managers, so that rural businesses can plan for the year ahead."

The National Farmers' Union (NFU) said it was encouraged by the progress, which would aid cashflow in a year of challenging weather and volatile prices.

But NFU deputy president Guy Smith said payments under the recently-introduced Countryside Stewardship scheme, which rewards farmers for environmental work, need to keep pace with its Environmental Stewardship predecessors, including the Entry and Higher Level Stewardship (ELS and HLS) schemes.

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He said: "Whilst it is encouraging to clearly see the RPA's efforts to improve delivery have directly resulted in many farmers receiving their entire ELS/HLS 2019 payments in December many months ahead of previous years, it's important this progress is continued so everyone gets paid by the end of January at the latest. Claimants need two things, payments or information as to when they will be paid.

"With regard to Countryside Stewardship, clearly the rate of payments is nothing like BPS or ELS/HLS and we need to see a quick improvement here. I'm mindful there will be some still without BPS or CS payments, myself included, who will take no comfort from the fact most people have had something.

"There is still a crisis of confidence in the Countryside Stewardship schemes that is impacting on uptake. Getting the payment rate up to the impressive levels that BPS now seems to be achieving will help start to get Countryside Stewardship back on track."

FRAUD WARNING

The RPA also warned claimants to remain vigilant against fraud, and re-issued the following advice:

- 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 disclose personal information to 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 find this on the organisation's website, correspondence or statement.

- Contact Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040 for advice and to register concerns.

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