Online applications soar for SPS

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The new electronic scheme which allows farmers to use the internet to apply for their Single Farm Payments has made a successful start, with more than one in every three UK farmers turning to the web to fill in their forms.

New statistics from the Rural Payments Agency show that farmers and agents are moving away from the traditional paperwork method to make their SPS 2011 applications, with around 9,300 electronic applications for SPS 2011 having been received to date.

The RPA said that nearly half of these online applications have been submitted from farmers and agents who are using the web-based services for the first time this year.

A spokesman said that the total number of applications to date is around 27,200, and that those farmers who have yet to apply are encouraged to consider going online before the May 16 deadline.

The RPA’s online service highlights errors before the application is submitted which means only correctly filled-in forms go through. Farmers and agents also get an instant receipt so they know it has arrived at RPA.

Once registered, they can view and track the progress of their claim. All records are stored electronically so they will be easy to access next time.

Agricultural groups say they have had good feedback from their members and are encouraging others to have a look at the online service.

Billie Johnson, vice chairman of IAgSA (the Institute of Agricultural Secretaries & Administrators) said: “Agents tell us that once they have registered for SPS Online, they find it straightforward.

“They find it easy to check through the application before submitting it. The reduced photocopying and delivery time is helpful, along with the instant receipt. They also find it useful to be able to print off a final document for their clients and files.”

The NFU SPS Adviser, Richard Wordsworth, believes that submitting online, where this is practical for the farmer, can deliver benefits in terms of reducing the risk of errors. He said they are encouraging NFU members to look seriously at this method of application.

Alice De Soer, from the Central Association of Agricultural Valuers, added: “Agents using SPS Online to deal with multiple SPS claims have certainly been giving positive feedback about the system. It has been particularly invaluable for picking up minor errors which a paper form would not. This helps to prevent issues further down the line.”

The news will be pleasing to bosses at the RPA as news of their plan to drive more applications online was met with concern from some sectors of the farming community. The agency itself is currently the subject of a programme of reform after widespread criticism over its performance.