Thousands of farmers face cash squeeze as they await support payments

Thousands of farmers have been waiting since the start of December for support payments that have yet to arrive. Picture by Tony Johnson.
Thousands of farmers have been waiting since the start of December for support payments that have yet to arrive. Picture by Tony Johnson.
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More than 3,000 farmers and growers are still waiting to receive lifeblood European support money, more than three months after the payment window opened, according to a new analysis by the National Farmers’ Union.

The union’s newly elected vice president, Stuart Roberts, voiced his frustration at the impasse at a time when many northern farmers are having to spend extra funds to recover from some of the worst snow drifts to have affected their farmland in decades.

Mr Roberts was also critical of the communication with farmers about what was happening with their payment claims, as he rued the lack of progress made by the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) in administering direct support payments to farmers under the Basic Payment Scheme since January.

Read more: Agency makes payments to 91% of farmers

Mr Roberts, a third generation arable and livestock farmer based in Hertfordshire, said: “The NFU has repeatedly and consistently raised concerns with the RPA over the progress and delivery of BPS payments, which are key in managing farm businesses.

“Of particular concern are those farmers who have had to endure additional costs caused by some of the worst weather in recent years. We have asked the RPA what more can be done to get affected farmers payments out of the door as soon as possible.”

As of January 26, the RPA had paid more than 79,000 or 93 percent of farmers more than £1.5bn but Mr Roberts was critical of the progress made since then. Since then, and up to the end of February, just 2,000 further farmers were paid, taking the total to 95.5 percent.

Read more: Farm payments boss admits customer service must improve

Mr Roberts said: “Over the past few years we have seen a fall in the progress of BPS payments after December. This is disappointing to see yet again.

“It is equally important that farmers are contacted in the event of payment issues. Many of our members have continued to report to us that they are unable to get any meaningful updates and this lack of communication leaves cash flow planning impossible.”

For farmers who have not been paid by the end of this month, there will be concessions.

Farming Minister George Eustice announced in January that farmers without payments by the end of March will be offered a bridging payment in April of 75 percent of the value of their claim.

But Mr Roberts said the gesture comes too late to alleviate cash flow pressures for farm businesses.

“While we are glad that the RPA listened to our call for bridging payments, it is disappointing to see this take several months to land with farmers. We need to see as many farmers paid in full and receiving accurate payments this month.

“We should never be reaching the point where bridging payments become necessary. The NFU is concerned that the number of bridging payments issued by the RPA may be more than last year, if payment performance does not pick up in March.”

Some payments are still due to farmers dating back to botched attempts at administering the payment scheme in 2015, while the 2018 online application window opens today.

An RPA spokesperson said: “By the end of February 95.5 percent of farmers; more than 81,000, had received their BPS 2017 payments, worth £1.59bn in total.

“As in every year, there are some claims in the pipeline and some that require more complex processing so take longer to complete. Any farmer that does not receive a payment by the end of March 2018 will be provided a bridging payment in early April.”