Farming leaders are concerned that so few farmers have been invited to register to claim for this year’s new subsidy payments.
The Rural Payments Agency (RPA) has come in for criticism in the past for IT failures which hindered smooth payments to farmers but it has moved to reassure the industry that it is inviting thousands of farmers a day to sign up to the new rural payments online service.
At a meeting of the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) Council on Tuesday, the union’s vice president Guy Smith told Mark Grimshaw, the RPA’s chief executive, that he was concerned that the timeline for the new system had become compressed.
“It’s been our message throughout that members must look at this as soon as possible and not do the farmer trick of thinking ‘oh, I’ll do it next week, next month’,” Mr Smith said.
“However, we are concerned that the window of opportunity is getting compressed. It worries me that although you’ve put December and January for registration, we are already on January 20 and we are yet to roll out registration to 90 per cent of people.
“We urge you to get access to the service elements as soon as possible.”
Mr Grimshaw said it had opened up the service to thousands of NFU members over Christmas and the New Year, and on Monday he asked the NFU to begin inviting 3,000 of their members a day onto the new service.
“Our plan is to continue to release the system gradually making more elements of the service available week by week,” he said.
“Since mid-December those registered or their agent have been able to register personal and business details and start checking the data we hold on their maps and land. Farmers and landowners have also been able to appoint an agent or someone else to act on their behalf.
“Next month is when the system will start to display things we think you need to check such as land parcels, and you’ll be able to react and amend them. This includes adding information on land cover and usage.
“From March you can confirm entitlements and eligibility, and can complete and submit your 2015 claims up until the 15 May. We will tell customers what they need to do and when they need to log back in.
“I remain committed to ensuring that farmers have the ability to access all the funding that they are entitled to and I will endeavour to focus all of the resource at my disposal to make this happen.”
To deliver on his promises, the RPA chief said farmers that had been invited to begin the registration process should get involved now and not leave it to the last minute.
The RPA has extended its opening hours to include weekends for its rural payments helpline to manage the registration process, and has set up of a network of 50 support centres across the country to help some farmers and landowners make claims.
Mr Grimshaw said: “The new online service is designed to make it as simple as possible for farmers and landowners to get their money under the new, changed ‘single farm payment’ rules.
“We’re continuing to release the service gradually so we can gather feedback and improve the technology as we go. People can get started on the new service, checking their details and building their application, but won’t be able to make a complete claim until March.”
The rural payments helpline number is 0345 603 7777.