The NFU has written to Secretary of State Liz Truss, expressing major concerns over what it believes to be unnecessary complications in the BPS application process, and highlighting the risk that farmers could suffer penalties through no fault of their own.
The organisation, which represents around 55,000 members across England and Wales, is calling for clarity on a number of connected issues it says need to be addressed urgently, such as permanently ineligible features, how pre-populated forms are intended to be used, and the potential for unintentional errors and penalties.
NFU President Meurig Raymond said: “I have written to the Secretary of State because I am getting increasingly worried that, by asking this year for additional information such as mapping of Permanently Ineligible Features (PIFs), the RPA is putting additional pressure on a system that is already creaking badly.
“This has implications for the RPA’s ability to make payments in December, in a year when they are going to be needed more than ever, with so many farmers suffering cash flow problems because of the downturn in prices in so many sectors.
“Unless things are simplified and/or additional resources found, there may be no realistic alternative to advance payments to address the cash flow problem.”
He was also concerned, he said, that many farmers were working on the assumption that the data on pre-populated forms would come from 2014, when there was “growing evidence” that this was frequently not the case.
“This means that many who think they are in the ‘no change’ category may not actually be so, with the result that they inadvertently over-claim and incur penalties,” Mr Raymond said.
NFU Vice President Guy Smith said: “Feedback from farmers on the ground has highlighted the widespread concern there is about the massive amount of additional paperwork that will be required to meet these additional requirements and the potential for completely unintentional errors and penalties.
“We have been carrying out a survey of 500 of our members, to monitor the progress they are making with BPS applications and initial results suggest things are not on track.
“30% of those expecting application forms and maps are still waiting for them - our advice to farmers in this position is to phone the RPA without delay.
“Feedback from our roadshows suggests there are thousands upon thousands of PIFs that will need RLE1 maps. More generally, over half of those surveyed have no confidence in the system as it is currently operating.”