NFU survey says information is still lacking for BPS subsidy applications

A farmer working on a field near Aylsham. PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY

A farmer working on a field near Aylsham. PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY - Credit: Archant

A survey of National Farmers' Union (NFU) members has revealed continued lack of information relating to Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) forms, following the failure of the online application system.

Of the respondents who are self-completing their application, 42pc said they were unaware that the RPA (Rural Payments Agency) has support centres available, about a fifth said they had not received an email or paper forms from the RPA since April 12, 18pc said information on their forms was incorrect – but 42pc had yet to check – and 27pc said they had not received copies of their maps since September.

NFU vice president Guy Smith said: 'Our intention is to regularly publish the results of our ongoing survey so we can better inform our constant talks with the RPA and express the anger and frustration our members are going through when what they really want to be doing is getting down to the business of farming.

'We do appreciate this is extra form filling, but would strongly encourage members who have yet to take part in our survey to spend just a few minutes completing it. It is vital that we get their feedback, as the next few weeks are absolutely critical.

'Meanwhile we continue to encourage members to endeavour as best they can to submit forms in good order and in good time and we remind our members of the need for extra care and attention to detail in this all important initial year of BPS.'

RPA customer director Justin Chamberlain said all pre-populated BPS application forms had now been issued, and anyone who has not received their form, either by email or post, should contact the helpline on 03000 200 301.

'Farmers should now have received their forms,' he said. 'I would encourage them to complete their application as soon as possible and not to wait until the 15 June deadline.

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'We have a range of support available if farmers need help, such as through our helpline, or at any of the 50 support centres across the country, to ensure farmers and their agents get the help and advice they need to make their claims.'

The Norwich support centre is at the RPA office in Dragonfly House, Gilders Way, and is open Tuesday to Thursday. In Lowestoft, the support centre is based at the CEFAS office in Pakefield Road, open Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

Andrew Fundell, agricultural business consultant and partner at Brown and Co, said farmers and land managers must quickly get on top of the paperwork to avoid delays to their subsidies

He said: 'With the deadline having been shifted back to June 15 there is the temptation to delay the application process until nearer that deadline.

'With some 'simple' applications, where there is grassland only, or where the application falls below the area where 'greening' is required, applications are relatively straightforward. However, we are finding that generally applications are taking two to three times longer to complete.

'The crop diversification element of greening means that there is a requirement to quantify the splits in fields, and ineligible features that are not already identified on the most recent Rural Land Register (RLR) maps need to be identified and remapped – it all adds to the task.

'The transfer deadline for entitlements is also now June 15. Applicants that have a surplus or deficit in number have this opportunity to go to the market with their requirement. This is easier quantified when the application has been completed. Those with surplus entitlements will lose them to the National Reserve.

'We are concerned that there is going to be a knock-on effect to the cashflow this winter for some businesses. In 2014, more than 97pc of our Single Payment Scheme applications were paid in the first week of December.

'We cannot underestimate the enormity of the task that the RPA staff have ahead of them, interpreting the handwriting of in the region of 80,000 claims. 'There will inevitably be errors and queries which will lead to delayed payments. The earlier that you submit your application, surely the more chance that your application will be top of the pile when it comes to payment.'