Thousands of farmers are still owed government payments from 2017, says NFU
PUBLISHED: 16:09 09 April 2019 | UPDATED: 16:09 09 April 2019
Farmers awaiting subsidy or environmental payments have been told they will receive “bridging payments” from April 12 – but concerns remain for the thousands who are still out of pocket.
The Rural Payments Agency (RPA) has confirmed that while 99pc of eligible Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) 2018 claims have now been processed, the rest will receive 75pc of the estimated value of their claim, to aid cash flow while the remaining amount is processed.
Bridging payments will also cover unpaid 2018 Countryside Stewardship (CS) scheme, which rewards farmers for managing their land for wildlife.
RPA chief executive Paul Caldwell said the agency had worked hard to improve its much-criticised performance this year, adding: “Our focus remains on processing the remaining claims and paying farmers as quickly as possible.”
But Guy Smith, deputy president of the National Farmers’ Union (NFU), said while the bridging payments provided “some much-needed relief”, there were still serious concerns for farm businesses still awaiting money due to them – including for the 2017 Entry Level and Higher Level Stewardship (ELS and HLS) schemes which preceded Countryside Stewardship.
“While we are pleased to see some improvements to the payment performance of BPS and Countryside Stewardship, there is still work to be done,” he said. “We remain very concerned that there are almost 4,000 farmers out there who have still not received ELS or HLS payments from 2017.
“This is simply unacceptable for the thousands of farmers who have delivered their side of the contract only to be left still waiting for their payment from the government, and who may be facing considerable knock-on effects for their businesses and families as a result.
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“It is vital that Defra addresses this as soon as possible by paying those holders in full.”
Ben Underwood, East regional director for the Country Land and Business Association (CLA), added: “While many farmers will be pleased to see a marked improvement on last year’s performance and relieved to hear that payment is on its way, we should be wary of normalising them – bridging payments should never be preferable to a full payment in a timely manner.
“As well as the additional administrative burden for all involved, bridging payments adds stress and worries for farmers already facing significant uncertainties with regards to the future.”