JANUARY – UK 2017 BPS ENTITLEMENT UPDATE
Common land – New Forest claims
UK 2016 Market Report; UK BPS Regional Comparison Fact Sheet; How to authorise us as your agent online; Current entitlements available; Current entitlements wanted; Summer 2016 newsletter; Christmas 2016 newsletter; Desktop English BPS payment card 2016, How to order UK BPS Entitlements – User Guide
2. UK BPS Entitlements – User Guide – now available
“Whether you are a practicing farmer, an accountant, a rural surveyor, a student, a land agent – or even an agricultural journalist – this book will become an invaluable tool for understanding the intricacies of agricultural support in the UK.”
Philip Clarke, Executive Editor, Farmers Weekly
“Townsend Chartered Surveyor’s expertise in this complex area is well-respected and this new, much needed, publication will become a ‘bible’ for all practitioners dealing with entitlements, the support system and the Rural Payments Agency. As the UK’s largest multi-professional organisation devoted to the law and business of the countryside, the Agricultural Law Association is pleased to endorse this book.”
M R Holland MRICS, Agricultural Law Association
To view sample pages please click here.
To order the £40 e-book or hard copy paperback book of the User Guide please click here.
3. England Non-SDA
Since our Christmas update, read more, the market rallied to £200 per hectare just before Christmas, and peaked at £205 at the start of the New Year. By mid-January it had settled back again to £190 per hectare and overall January, compared with last year, has shown considerably less volume of trade. This effect could be due to the unusually dry weather in January enabling more field work, and less paperwork, a misconceived impression that until the RPA online transfer system is live, one cannot buy or sell entitlements, and of course fears over Brexit with so little information as yet available as to subsidy payments beyond 2019/20. However the threat for purchasers is that, once there is more rain or when the online system goes live for transfers, which is expected mid-February, prices may harden again. For vendors the threat is that Brexit continues to dampen the enthusiasm for anything connected to subsidies, albeit that there are still two years of payment guaranteed and maybe a third. As in the past however it is not always the financial return that motivates the market at any one time but the actual supply and demand on that day. At the end of January the estimated payment for 2017, at the prevailing exchange rate, was £214.51/ha for Non-SDA entitlements. Therefore whatever type of Brexit there is, it is still a “no brainer” to buy, and at the moment at an historically good value.
4. England SDA and Moorland
There has still been no trade for SDA and Moorland.
5. Leasing and Naked Acres
Again there has not yet been any leasing, however we will be offering Naked Acre letting again this year following the King Case. Read more…
6. RPA Online Transfers
The new 2017 RPA Online Entitlement screen and updated RPA Online help notes (17.1.17) are now available to view, which are showing some improvements from last year. However we are already finding errors with the Entitlements screen and are awaiting the RPA to provide further explanation, therefore care still needs to be taken before relying on what is being shown. The online transfer application facility is however not yet live, and is not expected to be so until mid-February at the earliest.
7. Common land claims
Claimants with any common land seem to be put at the back of the queue as most outstanding payments for 2015 and 2016 appear to be with those having some common land in their claim. In the New Forest following the issuing of new maps by the RPA, the expansion of the area of eligible land is progressing, however not all of the land reclassification that needs to be done is likely to be completed by the 15th May, leaving New Forest claimants still in the dark when trying to decide on the number of entitlements they will need for 2017. However the RPA are expected to calculate their assessments and make compensation payments due following the Minchinhampton case before May 2017.
8. 2015 Payment queries
More claimants are becoming nervous that their queries from 2015 have not yet been resolved and we are increasingly becoming involved with these with the RPA to try and avoid the complications that will arise if another year’s claim has to be made without these corrections, which will only compound the problems.
9. BPS Claims – 2017
The RPA has recently confirmed that 93% of 2016 BPS claimants have been paid their Basic Payment Scheme payment. This figure surpasses the target of 91%, which was set before the payment window opened in December 2016. With large sums of money being paid out to farmers it is important to focus on the remaining 7% who are yet to be paid and those who have received a payment and believe it to be incorrect. Claimants receiving payments at this stage should check the remittance advice carefully and refer back to their 2016 claim to ensure that a payment has been made in full. If a claimant believes that they have been underpaid, they should contact the RPA immediately to raise this concern and start a dialogue with the complaints resolution team in order to obtain a top-up payment and to ensure information is correct on the RPA system in preparation for 2017 claims. The RPA have confirmed that Claim Statements will be sent out shortly, but in the meantime claimants should not hesitate to make contact with the RPA if they believe they have been underpaid.
Given the amount of money at stake this year, which is 19% greater than the 2015 payment at £212.69, it may be prudent for claimants to consider using a land agent to review previous claims. These checks can be carried out at this time of year by agents who submit numerous claims on behalf of clients and therefore will have come across most types of queries before and know how the rules work. Such a check can be brief and should provide peace of mind prior to the 2017 application window opening. Put simply, errors are easy to make, and recently we had a case of an incomplete claim form costing the claimant £4,000. Another new entrant missed out on the allocation of 50 hectares of entitlements because the paper evidence supporting the application didn’t arrive until after the 15th May.
Claimants should also consider using an agent to prepare and submit their BPS claims in addition to providing checks. The complexities of RLE1 forms, continuation booklets, land use codes and EFA calculations means that even simple ‘same again’ claims can result in major errors that result in underpayments and payment penalties. This was particularly evident in 2016 as parcels which had been amended with the use of an RLE1 form in 2015 did not always show up as part of the holding. There was no simple means to rectify this situation and claimants had to submit additional RLE1 forms to add missing parcels, meaning online claims were submitted with key information missing.
The apparent simplicity of the online claim form can also be misleading. For those who submit online tax returns, there are often mistakes and processing errors on the system that mean figures don’t tally. The same can be said of the BPS online system. Rounding errors, missing figures and incorrect historic data plagued the system last year, meaning agents had to meticulously re-check claims before they were submitted. When it comes to taxes, the aid of an accountant is vital to ensure the necessary data is submitted to the HMRC, so why not use a land agent when so much more money is at stake?
Using an agent also ensures contact is made with the RPA when required. The claimant may be in a situation where an RLE1 form has not been processed from the previous year, or an incorrect number of entitlements is showing on the entitlements page, or a land parcel is missing from the application page or there is a general query with the application. In these instances agents are often in a better position to bypass the lengthy holding procedure on the RPA telephone line and directly contact members of the RPA team, who can provide advice over the phone and provide written responses if necessary. This procedure helps to save time and also ensures minor mistakes are not made on the application.
We receive regular requests for help where farmers have kept no record of who they have talked to or exactly when at the RPA, have not followed it up in writing and have then lost out from relying on incorrect advice from the RPA helpline with no practical way of proving maladministration or obtaining compensation.
Recent studies have shown that BPS payments form over 50% of farm incomes in England. This demonstrates the importance and financial reliance farmers place on the Basic Payment Scheme and farm support. Given this, claimants should be prepared to spend considerable periods of time preparing their own BPS claims prior to the deadline or should consider using a professional to do this on their behalf, or at least provide some advice. Each parcel should be checked on the online system to ensure the boundary has been marked correctly, in-eligible features should be measured and recorded to ensure parcels are not over-claimed on, the land use should be checked to ensure it corresponds with what is taking place on the ground and the required number of entitlements should be calculated to ensure a sufficient number are owned. Whether a claim is for 5 hectares or 500 hectares, the same level of checking is needed.
Only when the whole claim has been checked, perhaps more than once, should it be submitted, along with supporting documents. At this point the onus is placed upon the RPA to process and check your claim with the same degree of caution and care as was taken prior to submission. Unfortunately this frequently is not the case, resulting in processing errors and payment hold-ups. In this situation the responsibility may be passed back from the RPA to the claimant to prove that the error was not made by them. This situation validates the use of an agent, who will have recorded every action and change made during the application process, and be able to provide evidence of this if required. Screen-shots and records will be maintained to ensure errors can be traced and negated by the claimant, or their agent, and the RPA.
BPS claimants should therefore consider using land agents, in the same way they would an accountant or solicitor to provide peace of mind and ensure the safe receipt of such an important income source. Everyone who intends to submit a BPS claim this May should weigh up the benefits of using a professional against the cost. For a prudent farmer, using an agent has now become a necessary expense. Contact Dominic Rees by email (firstname.lastname@example.org) for more details/information, if you would like this type of help.
10. Disputes and appeals
Increasingly we are having to recommend claimants involved in disputes with the RPA consider avoiding the RPA appeal system, and consider whether a small claims court action will produce a quicker result with a lower cost, and with the ability of more easily recovering some of the professional costs involved. Whilst claimants can attempt to use the RPA appeals system without professional involvement, even if it is found the RPA made an error or were at fault, it still does not guarantee a satisfactory result. The RPA remain uncommitted to accepting the results of their own appeal system.
11. Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland
No trade has yet started in these regions.