The NFU's Richard Wordsworth gives an update on the state of play with payments and what the NFU has been doing.
For those not paid in December it’s been an unwelcome period of uncertainty - sadly not helped by poor RPA communications. The unpaid were written to in mid-January and, frustratingly, since that time payments have dried up.
The RPA took until just 24 January to hit its target for 31 March of 93% of eligible claims paid. But since then they have only managed to get payments up to 94.6% (at 21 March), which still leaves some 3,000 claims. They have promised the total paid by the end of the month will be around 98% - but that still leaves 1,500 unpaid.
And again, it is a depressing tale of two halves.
The main group not paid at the turn of the year was those inspected in 2016, many justifiably angry at finding out late in the day the payment was held up by an invisible remote inspection.
So what have we been doing?
Well, we've certainly not sat back thinking the job is done for BPS 2016. Far from it; having worked with farmers all my working life, I know the pressures that the lack of cash flow has on businesses. The NFU knows the situation and has been regularly raising concerns with the RPA, Defra and the government.
We are in regular contact with the RPA at senior and strategic levels to ensure that the impact of delayed payments on farmers is recognised, that monies are issued as soon as possible, that the resources are in place and to understand what’s behind the hold-up (is it IT issues, what are the processing challenges etc?).
I do believe the RPA understands the situation - the frustrating thing is that the speed of delivery remains a problem.
We are in weekly, sometimes daily contact over the delays in payments. We’ve raised critical cases with the RPA where a payment has been desperately needed - this has meant some members receiving a Financial Hardship Payment of around 50% of the expected claim value.
As many of you will have seen, our NFU team has also been out on the road in recent weeks giving an update on BPS issues, that includes 2016 payments amongst other things. We have fed what we have heard back into the RPA.
We have continued to push for bridging payments for those not paid in December. I might add that we are the only organisation doing this as far as I am aware.
We see the issuing of such payments absolutely critical to members and those that rely on them. And while we didn’t get the green light until late February and they are only going start to land until in early April, this will hopefully help to give a level of financial certainty to the remaining claimants.
As you would expect, we have been working with the RPA on the finer details, ensuring bridging payments are delivered effectively and, for example, that those who have only had a 50% payment to date get a top up to 75% if not paid in full this week.
We have put together a Q&A on bridging payments – read it here.
The RPA is sending out a letter to those unpaid at present to explain the situation, which they promised to do when they wrote to unpaid farmers back in mid-January, again something the NFU has been involved in ensuring happened.
Please be assured, the NFU is on the case with BPS, the RPA and will continue to work hard for members on the ongoing 2016 issues, that includes the fallout from the inspections carried out last year and the need to pay the remainder of the 2016 payment for those who will receive a bridging payment in the coming days.
Finally, if you need further assistance on BPS, greening or cross compliance, please call NFU Callfirst on 0370 845 8458.