The Rural Payments Agency has insisted that it has stepped up its efforts to process support payments for farmers and other funds they are owed for undertaking incentivised environmental work.
Despite having delivered its best performance for making direct support payments to farmers since the inception of the current Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) in 2015, industry lobby group, the Tenant Farmers Association, said the agency still had urgent work to do.
The association, which represents farmers who do not own the land that they farm, said any progress on direct payments does not hide the fact that a number of farmers still awaiting those payments are also “in the queue” for environmental scheme payments, and that this was causing serious cash flow problems.
Lynette Steel, the group’s farm policy adviser, said: “Although the RPA managed to hit targets to make payments to over 90 per cent of farmers by the end of 2018, there are still many farm businesses awaiting long overdue payments for environmental schemes.
“Farmers have met their obligations under these schemes and the Government must take responsibility for its side by making these long overdue payments.
“Taking part in these schemes is not without cost and payments only provide farmers with income foregone. Payment delays are causing major cash flow issues.”
She also complained of “inadequate” communication from government agencies which has left affected businesses unaware of when they might be paid as tax bills and rent demands loom.
“Without bridging payments, many farm businesses will be forced into dire financial difficulty,” Ms Steel said.
The TFA has also urged the Government to allow affected farmers to delay tax payments in order for their finances to cope.
According to the RPA, some 93.4 per cent of 2018 BPS payment claims were settled during the first month of the payments window in December. More than 65 per cent of farmers received their money on the first day of the window and it is on track to complete payments “significantly ahead” of the deadline this June.
A spokesman for the RPA told The Yorkshire Post: “We fully appreciate how important payments are to farmers and their businesses. That is why we are focused on getting money into bank accounts and have increased efforts to pay more people as early as possible, including bringing in additional resources to improve performance.
“We are pleased to see this hard work already delivering positive results, with more than nine out of 10 BPS 2018 payment claims made shortly after the payment window opened in December. This is the best performance since the scheme started in 2015.”
Farmers who are still owed BPS money by the end of March will get a bridging payment worth 75 per cent of the value of their claim, but this will come “far too late” for many farm businesses that are already feeling the strain, the TFA said.
Environment Secretary Michael Gove has repeatedly blamed EU rules for the delivery of the Countryside Stewardship agri-environment scheme not being good enough, and has insisted that the scheme is being simplified to speed up the processing of agreements and payments.