Farmers in the North have welcomed plans to suspend the online system they were being forced to use to claim EU subsidies.
The move came after what the National Farmers Union described as “weeks of significant frustration to farmers”, some of whom had spent hundreds of pounds trying to submit claims in time for the May deadline.
Farmers in England are now being contacted by email to be told they can submit their claims using traditional paper forms. The new system will be used only for farmers to register and download forms to print out.
North East farmers and their representatives yesterday welcomed the move, and said that the suspension should allow people to get the right payment.
Claire Bainbridge, rural practice surveyor at North East land agents George F White, said: “This announcement will be welcomed by the majority of farmers in our region. Those farmers who were confidently attempting to complete the land element online have been frustrated by the slow and often unavailable system.
“Many farmers were feeling considerable concern about submitting such a critical form, online with limited or no experience with this online system.
“Claimants that have not yet registered will still need to register to be able to claim, irrespective of these changes. As a firm we have most of our clients registered now, which has been a relatively simple exercise since the RPA introduced telephone registration.
“We had started to build our clients land element on the system, but it has been frustratingly slow progress. The RPA have made the difficult, but right decision to pull the plug on a failing online system and allow farmers plenty of time to get to grips with a new claim form, new scheme, without being dogged by computer issues.”
Andrew Jamieson, senior agricultural advisor at Carlisle-based H&H Land and Property, said: “This appears to be a setback on the face of it, but we feel that it is good news for claimants and agents alike. We now have a final decision and clarity on how to proceed from here on and can progress matters with clients to ensure submissions are made on time.
“Although we feel sure that the RPA will confirm their acceptance of the claim deadline extension, we would advise farmers not to delay preparing, checking and submitting their BP5 forms once available from Monday 23rd onwards.”
The Rural Payments Agency insisted the change will not prevent it completing the necessary work on time to make payments to farmers from December.
RPA chief executive, Mark Grimshaw said: “My priority is to ensure that every farmer and agent has the help they need to make their claims on time. Using tried-and-tested RPA forms will make this happen.”
“Having listened to feedback, the RPA will now combine existing forms that farming businesses are used to, with data that the Rural Payments system already has.
“This will mean that everyone who is registered and wants to complete a 2015 Basic Payment Scheme claim can do so.”
The European Commission has offered a one-month extension to June 15 in the deadline for BPS applications.
NFU President Meurig Raymond said Environment Secretary Elizabeth Truss had assured him that enough resources would be made available for payments to be made “in good time”.
“We’ve been working tirelessly on behalf of members over the past few months pushing for a system which is robust and fit for purpose,” said Mr Raymond.
“It is clear that the situation has become untenable for our members who are justifiably frustrated, angry and anxious about the developing situation and lack of functionality and communication.
“This has been made increasingly worrying and costly for our members as time is running out and the day-to-day business of farming cannot be put on hold nor can we waste any further time at this critical period in the farming year.
“The NFU has encouraged our members to register onto the new system in good faith, but we have been let down time and time again.
“We know that some farmers have already spent hundreds of pounds on agents’ fees and this is an unacceptable situation and the failure of the mapping capability of the systems has been a particular bugbear to our members.
“RPA must now work with the NFU and farmers, sharing its planning and progress throughout the application window and beyond to the payment in December 2015.
“What we need now is a very clear timetable for the new application approach, and assurance that farmers can apply without increased risk of penalties or error and will be monitoring the situation closely in the coming weeks.”
The RPA said that while the core computer system and registration operations were “working well”, there were performance problems with the online interface used by farmers and agents.