RPA drops online-only process as technical problems plague new claims

The RPA is abandoning its online-only application format for the Basic Payment Scheme for farmers

The RPA is abandoning its online-only application format for the Basic Payment Scheme for farmers - Credit: Archant

The Rural Payments Agency (RPA) has abandoned its online-only process for claiming the new farm subsidy payment under the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) due to technical difficulties - but has urged farmers to continue to register online.

Mark Grimshaw, chief executive of the Rural Payments Agency.

Mark Grimshaw, chief executive of the Rural Payments Agency. - Credit: Archant

Farmers in East Anglia and across the UK were becoming increasingly frustrated with difficulties they were experiencing in making their online applications, particularly around mapping, following what was for most a fairly smooth registration process.

The RPA admitted that while the core and registration parts of the Rural Payments system were working well, there have been performance problems with the online application process.

It is now offering farmers and their agents the use of established paper forms and processes to complete their claims by the deadline, and the RPA will then input this data itself onto the system.

It stressed it had the resources it needed to undertake the work on time, and would be able to make payments to farmers from December 2015.

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The RPA today began emailing all farmers and agents who have already registered on the Rural Payments website to provide further detail on completing and submitting claims. Meanwhile, the BPS deadline has been extended by a month to June 15.

Farmers leaders from the National Farmers’ Union (NFU), Tenant Farmers’ Association (TFA) and Country Land and Business Association (CLA) welcomed the move, citing difficulties their own members had been experiencing with the system.

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The NFU said it is working with the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and the RPA to ensure on-time payments to farmers remain a top priority for Government.

“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,” said NFU president Meurig Raymond.

“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. We are pleased to hear today the RPA commitment that they have saved the data that has already been entered onto the system and it will be used going forward.”

Chartered Surveyor Richard Prentice, head of the agricultural department Durrants’ Diss office, said his office was in the process of submitting nearly 200 claims for clients throughout Suffolk and Norfolk and were becoming increasingly frustrated at the lack of progress from the RPA before the announcement about online submissions.

“They will be using paper forms in the coming weeks. We don’t as yet know the details of the forms or have any guidance. It is clearly essential that forms and guidance are issued quickly,” he said.

“It is disappointing that the online system has been abandoned, but at least there is a plan in place going forward. I don’t think the solution will be easy. I suspect that the paper forms will be very complicated given the amount of information that the RPA will require. We will have to wait and see.”

Savills Suffolk agribusiness consultant Rob Scott said the problems with the RPA’s computer system had caused “real frustration and concern” in the farming community.

“The news that applications can now be made on paper will bring an immense sigh of relief from farmers and agents across England,” he said.

“No doubt questions will be asked about how the system failed, but the priority now is to concentrate on getting applications completed and submitted in good order.”

TFA chief executive George Dunn said his organisation had always been opposed to “the digital-by-default dogma expressed by DEFRA”.

“Despite the lessons that should have been learned from the failure of the IT system introduced in 2005 DEFRA pressed ahead,” he said, while expressing relief at the about-turn.

CLA East regional director Ben Underwood said: “We are disappointed that landowners are now put in the position of having to revert to a paper-based system. However, given the concerns about the capabilities and functionality of the IT system we are relieved that the RPA has listened to us and taken action, before it is too late.

“We will continue to meet with the RPA to ensure that every measure is being taken so that claims can be made on time and payments made at the earliest opportunity. We are also pressing Government for adequate resources to be made available for this change in process.”

Speaking to the EADT today, RPA chief executive Mark Grimshaw admitted that it had been “a bit of a bumpy ride”, but was pleased that DEFRA was fully supporting the department as it gets to grips with the problem. The web portal issues became “quite clear” early this week, thus the decision to suspend those, he said.

“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.

“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.”

He urged those who hadn’t yet registered online - so far 73,000 farmers out of a possible 85,000 have done so - to do so now, using the online service. Of those registered, around 35,000 to 36,000 are deemed “straightforward cases” and will receive an email in April telling them how the RPA can fast-track them through the process.

Applications will be available to download from the RPA’s website from Monday.

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