In a damning report on the RPA’s performance, the cross party House of Commons environment, food and rural affairs committee said that for farmers still waiting for their subsidies under the basic payment scheme (BPS), “the delays are causing significant financial hardship and anxiety.” The RPA met its December and January targets by the barest margins, said the committee’s report called “Common agricultural policy: payments to farmers.” The RPA missed its March target. “This is unacceptable,” said MPs on the committee.

For 2016, the committee wants 90% of claims paid by the end of December as RPA chief executive Mark Grimshaw has promised. However, DEFRA and the RPA should offer additional hardship support to farmers “in the undesirable case that it cannot meet its delivery targets.”

DEFRA should consider what support it can offer to provide a standard service to all customers, regardless of the complexity of their claim. This should include early part payment or interest free loans for those who will be paid late next year owing to complications with their 2016 claim – including but not limited to inspections, land transfers, common land and change of use.

The RPA must communicate clearly with its customers and ensure that it is appropriately resourced to deal with queries and complaints. DEFRA must ensure that its information technology systems are able to make timely payments to farmers, while maintaining the high levels of accuracy necessary to avoid high costs of European Union fines under the disallowance regime. “The RPA must invest now in effective checking and mapping systems to ensure that disallowance penalties are minimised under the new common agricultural (CAP) policy rules,” the committee added.

NFU vice president and Essex farmer Guy Smith welcomed the committee’s continued interest into the administration of CAP in England. “The report does paint the all too vivid picture of what has been the sorry tale of BPS in 2015: cash flow problems caused and made worse by delays to payments and the level of timing and financial uncertainty knocking the industry’s confidence,” he said. “All of this comes at a time when the support payments were needed more than ever.”
Meanwhile, the Reading based RPA said that with more than 85,500 applications submitted on time for the 2016 BPS, anyone yet to apply can still do so until midnight on 10 June.

Claims submitted during the penalty period after the 16 May deadline will incur a one per cent penalty for each working day they are late. Farmers who applied on time could still make certain amendments until midnight on 31 May without being penalised. Some changes can still be made after this date but may be liable to a penalty.

RPA received more than 69,100 online applications for BPS 2016 ahead of the deadline. More than 16,400 additional paper applications have also been received.