Farming: Nick Palmer on the role of common land in Single Payment claims

Nick Palmer, a solicitor at Barker Gotelee.

Nick Palmer, a solicitor at Barker Gotelee. - Credit: Archant

A recent case on single payments shows the need for precision in reference years to secure single payment rights. The case is timely, in light of the present Common Agricultural Policy reform.

Imogen Bickford-Smith sought permission to apply for judicial review of a Rural Payments Agency (RPA) decision refusing her claim to an additional subsidy payment.

She already received the subsidy payment in respect of farmland which she owned outright and upon which she carried out an agricultural activity. She also exercised rights as a commoner to graze animals in the New Forest, on payment of a standard fee to the Verderers of the New Forest.

However, the RPA refused her claim in respect of this common land, as she did not have spare entitlements. In 2004, she did not turn out any livestock on this land and accordingly did not receive any entitlements which, for that particular land, were issued on the basis of actual use in 2004.

She claimed that the issue of entitlements in 2004 should not be determinative in this instance for future claims concerning that common land, but instead subsidies should be paid to those actually carrying out an agricultural activity from year to year.

But the court ruled that the 2003 reform had decoupled payment from production and the RPA had no discretion to remove and reallocate entitlements. It also ruled she was not entitled to a discretionary award from the National Reserve because she had commenced farming in 1994 and she was not therefore an eligible applicant.

She also based her claim on the premise that other commoners who received entitlements in 2005 were no longer exercising their rights in common, yet still received subsidy payments.

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The court said the RPA had no discretion to reallocate entitlements. As an aside, it considered the extent of the definition of “agricultural activity” and said that it was theoretically possible for a commoner to receive a subsidy payment even though (s)he was not actually grazing animals during the year of claim, if this helped maintain land in a good agricultural and environmental condition by preventing over-grazing.

The court pointed out that the EU had provided a means by which she could secure additional subsidy payments, and that was to buy additional entitlements on the open market, which she had not done.

: : Nick Palmer is a solicitor with Barker Gotelee.

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