More than 2,200 common land farmers have finally received top up payments, over a year after being left out of pocket by erroneously calculated European support payments.
About 500 cases are still being reviewed following the botched handling of the 2015 Basic Payment Scheme, while similar scrutiny is yet to be given to this year’s payments, with some farmers convinced that the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) has again managed to pay them an incorrect amount.
The Foundation for Common Land, which represents common land farmers in England and Wales, has welcomed the latest progress however, as well as its close communication with the RPA’s new interim chief director, Paul Caldwell, who took up his post earlier this year.
Julia Aglionby, executive director for the Foundation for Common Land, said that Mr Caldwell had been meeting with representatives from the Foundation and other farming groups every fortnight to provide updates on how the 2015 mispayments were being remedied.
Ms Aglionby said: “We are really pleased by how the RPA has engaged with us over the last three months. This collaboration has been a long time coming but we are optimistic that this new way of working will continue now all have seen the dividends it provides.
“We have been assured that once the 2015 BPS review has been completed, the top ups for 2016 will commence and we continue to press the RPA on this and to commence the assessment of the claims for compensation following the Minchinhampton case.”
Many farmers are expected to be in line for compensation payments after the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs admitted, in 2015, that the basis of eligibility for support payments to commoners adopted in 2005 under the Single Payment Scheme - the precursor to BPS - did not comply with European regulations.
A spokesperson for the Rural Payments Agency, said: “We understand how important BPS payments are to farmers and that’s why we’re working hard to get money into bank accounts as quickly as possible.
“More than 82,000 - 96 per cent - farmers in England have received their 2016 Basic Payment Scheme money. This includes farmers across a range of claim types and sizes, including cross-border, young farmer, those inspected and common land.
“We remain focused on paying the remainder of eligible claims and are currently reviewing ongoing BPS queries.”
According to the Agency, almost all eligible claimants have received a payment on their 2015 BPS claim apart from “exceptional cases”, such as those that cannot be paid for legal reasons like probate.
Payments under the 2016 round of the scheme began at the start of December, with payments worth £1.52bn having been paid to farmers so far, and so-called “bridging payments” have been guaranteed to all eligible farmers who have not received their full payment by the end of March.
Environment Secretary Andrea Leadsom bowed to pressure from industry groups last month when she announced that the bridging payments would be available and would amount to 75 per cent of the value of a farmer’s 2016 claim.