THE Rural Payments Agency needs to address its “shambolic” communications with the thousands of farmers who are still waiting to receive European support money, with some cash-shy farmers on the brink of exceeding their bank overdraft limits.
Guy Smith, vice president of the National Farmers’ Union, said he is frequently contacted by farmers who are in turmoil over how they should manage their dwindling finances because they have had no indication of when they will be paid under the Basic Payment Scheme.
The agency has been making and will continue to make regular announcements providing updates on getting payments to farmers.A spokesman for the Rural Payments Agency
The RPA’s payment window opened on schedule at the start of December despite the applications process being disrupted by IT failures, yet the agency has now conceded that many farmers will have to wait until March and beyond for their claims to be settled.
The issue was a hot topic when Mr Smith met farmers at Yorkshire Agricultural Machinery Show at York Auction Mart this week.
Speaking to Country Week after the show, Essex farmer Mr Smith said: “We have 20,000 farmers who are still unpaid and obviously we hear from those rather than the ‘haves’, and I understand people’s concerns because they don’t understand why they have not been paid. They are frustrated that the RPA can’t give them clear reasons why. People are concerned that there is something wrong with their applications.”
The RPA promised to pay “the vast majority” of farmers by the end of January and Mr Smith said he had mixed feelings over the agency’s progress.
“When we sat down with the RPA last year and their IT system had collapsed and there was no ‘plan B’, I thought payments would be delayed. Last time we had a new CAP in 2005, no one got paid before April so if you told me then that 75 per cent would be paid by the end of January, I would have thought the RPA had done pretty well.
“I can fully appreciate the feelings of those that haven’t been paid however and quite a lot of the communication from the RPA is pretty shambolic.”
The RPA said it understands how important payments are to farmers and is working seven days a week to pay remaining claims.
A spokesman said: “Claims will continue to be paid as they are checked and completed. Defra pledged to ensure that the RPA has all the resources it needs to make these payments and this is what happened. Our aim is to have paid almost all claims by the end of March, with a few thousand of the more complex cases taking slightly longer, as they did under the Single Payment Scheme.
“When it comes to communication, we regularly engage and communicate with stakeholders across the farming industry. In the first year of a complex scheme, the agency has been making and will continue to make regular announcements providing updates on getting payments to farmers.
“We could only identify which farmers would not be paid by the end of January once we had confirmed a final batch of payments this weekend. That is why letters and emails went out at the weekend to reassure them that we are continuing to work on their payment but only once we knew we were contacting the right farmers.”
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According to the Rural Payments Agency, some 66,800 farmers in England had been paid their Basic Payment Scheme monies by the end of January.
That figure represents 77 per cent of all farmers entitled to payments and equates to more than £1bn of an estimated total fund of £1.43bn has now been paid out for 2015.
The agency said it was aware of how important the payments are to farmers and that it is working with a range of voluntary organisations to support farmers experiencing hardship.
Any farmers who requires help and advice should contact the Rural Payments helpline on 03000 200 301 in the first instance, a spokesman for the agency said.