The RPA and Defra must remain fully focused on making BPS payments in December and ensure the necessary resources are in place to handle applications, the NFU has stressed.
Despite numerous meetings with senior RPA and Defra officials in the past few weeks, NFU Vice President Guy Smith says major concerns remain.
“All of these delays following the IT melt-down means we are in danger of being a good two months behind the timetable on applications and that will undoubtedly put pressure on the ability of the RPA to make payments promptly on the December 1 start date,” said Mr Smith.
“Our fundamental point is that farmers are not in any way to blame for the current problems and therefore it is wholly unacceptable that, as a result of these issues, farmers could be penalised with late payments.
“We welcome further clarity from the RPA today that new BP5 forms will start to go out to farmers from next week and that guidance on how to apply will go out via email initially with paper copies to follow in the post – a key demand of the NFU.
“But we remain concerned that this process needs to be completed as soon as possible to allow the industry as much time as possible to complete claim forms that are going to take longer to complete this year due to the demands of greening.”
Mr Smith said he understood the RPA will this week begin to consider what it deems to be ‘straightforward cases’ and will email thousands of farmers about their claims.
However, he expressed concern that many of the email addresses provided by farmers may not be regularly or routinely used by them.
“The RPA must monitor these electronic communications to see if they are being opened by the appropriate person,” he said.
“If the emails are not getting through then there must be a quick postal back-up. Farmers who have to fulfil greening requirements will be emailed pre-populated forms and information starting next Monday.
“It is not clear how long the RPA will need to email everyone in this category but the NFU will be complaining very loudly if we find members have not received forms by April 21.”
The organisation is also demanding that well-resourced, user friendly advice is given by the RPA to ensure farmers can submit applications in good time and in good order.
In particular, it wants to see well-staffed, well-located, advice centres open at times convenient to farmer hours.
Defra, it says, must accept that the RPA will need extra resources in the summer to process and check applications in enough time to hit the early December payment window.
“We are also very concerned that the system has become a confusing combination of paper and e-mail,” Mr Smith said.
“We see no good reason why pre-populated forms can not be posted out to applicants just as the maps and the guidance booklet will be. By relying on e-mail to send out pre-populated BPS forms the RPA risk confusing applicants as to where exactly their forms are coming from.
“I would also add that by relying on email the RPA are reviving our previous concerns about broadband capacity in farm offices as well as how e-enabled some farm businesses are.
“The NFU will continue to monitor the situation and will keep pressing both the RPA and Defra until our questions and concerns have been addressed.”