With the 2019 BPS online application window opening on the 13th March, many agents and farmers will now be considering their applications for this year and the amendments that they need to make, or the entitlements they need to sell or purchase.

Although the scheme itself in principle is relatively straightforward and has now been streamlined with the dropping of the Active Farmer rule, there are still a number of different quirks that agents and farmers may wish to consider when submitting claims this year.

Active farmer – technical hold ups & use of RLE1s

Prior to the online system opening up for the transfer of land and entitlements and, at the time of writing, with the entitlements transfer process currently on hold due to the Active Farmer requirement still being active on the back-end system but without an Active Farmer tick-box being available to be ticked on the front end, it may be tempting for both agents and farmers to submit RLE1 forms to transfer land and entitlements. It is worth remembering that to transfer land and entitlements you must submit two separate RLE1 forms, even if the entitlements and land relate to the same holding i.e. one RLE1 form needs to be submitted for the land transfer, and another for the entitlements transfer. However it is usually worth waiting for the online transfer system to be available as, once live, already registered land, or entitlement, transfers can be confirmed in a matter of hours (whereas a paper RLE1 form is unlikely to be processed before the 15th May). Using the online transfer system allows any transferred entitlements and land to be seen on the online BPS application forms before the 15th May deadline submission. If one has submitted an RLE1 form but now wishes to make a transfer online, it is worth remembering that an RLE1 can be withdrawn at any time by contacting the RPA. This must be done before an online transfer is initiated and duplication of a transfer occurs.

Land cover changes by telephone

When making a land cover change, if there is only one land cover in a parcel e.g. changing from permanent grassland to arable land, you can make this change by calling the RPA rather than submitting an RLE1 form. This process tends to be quicker than submitting an RLE1 and can therefore save you time with the application. If there is more than one land cover in a parcel however an RLE1 form will need to be submitted by the 15th May along with a clearly labelled sketch plan.

RPA mapping errors

When preparing a BPS application, thought must be given to the previous years’ application(s) as to field boundaries and areas, and these must be checked as the RPA often make minor amendments to field boundaries (usually due to Remote Sensing). Such changes could have an effect of causing dual claims or cause claims to be made on ineligible features. The RPA should notify all applicants of any field amendments via the RPA online messages system. These messages however only indicate which field parcel has been amended and not the amendment itself, therefore, the maps of the amended parcels will have to be checked to understand what amendments the RPA has made. If the amendments appear to be incorrect, an RLE1 form should be submitted to rectify their error and the BPS form amended accordingly. Whilst checking the field parcels it may also be worth checking the hedgerow data that the RPA has recently updated, especially if one wishes to use hedgerows for EFA or as part of a Countryside Stewardship agreement application for 2019. If you find that the hedgerow data is incorrect it is not necessary to amend the data unless you wish to use it for one of the above mentioned applications. However we recommend as best practice that the hedges are updated using an RLE1 so that the data on the RPA online system is as up-to-date as possible.  You never know what importance may be placed on hedgerows in the future.

Check your entitlements

Always remember when completing your BPS application to check your entitlements, to ensure that they are all valid, that all the entitlements that should have been activated last year were activated and that none were clawed back that shouldn’t have been. If there appears to be a discrepancy with your entitlements raise the issue with a BPS Payment Query form with the RPA as soon as possible. If you are low on entitlements due to a clawback it may be worth considering purchasing more in that year to make up the shortfall, depending on the number that have been clawed back and the estimated loss that you would make by not having the correct number available at the time.  Even if you feel the RPA has made a mistake by taking away your entitlements many claimants buy more entitlements anyway as it can take literally years for the RPA to address and unravel their mistakes.

Young Farmers and New Entrants

If you are new to BPS this year and have not yet got any entitlements, it may be worth considering whether you qualify as a Young or New Farmer, as you may be eligible to obtain free entitlements from the National Reserve. There are a number of different rules that must be met in order to qualify as a Young or New Farmer but if you qualify as a Young Farmer you may also be eligible for a top-up payment of 25% on the BPS element of the claim payment (i.e. excluding the greening payment) on the first 90 hectares of your holding, as well as entitlements for all the eligible land that you submit on that claim form for that year. If one does submit a Young/New Farmer application it is worth double and triple checking the forms before they are submitted to the RPA, and it may also be worthwhile taking them to a drop-in centre where the RPA will check through the document and supply you with a receipt at the point of drop off. The RPA, from our own experience, seem to be very strict on the submission of Young/New Farmer application forms and do not appear to allow amendments or submissions after the 15th May.  If you are successful you will get all the entitlements you are asking for.  If not successful you will not know until after the 15th May and therefore have no chance to buy entitlements instead.  You cannot buy any before as the allocation of new entitlements only applies to eligible area where there are no corresponding entitlements registered already.

Greening & crop diversification

Once one finally gets to the point of actually completing the BPS application form and having gone through the process of checking all other matters surrounding the application, there are still a number of hoops which need to be jumped through including Greening and crop diversification. Although the online application now includes a helpful page which automatically calculates whether or not you’ve met the Greening rules and crop diversification, it is worth doing this manually yourself as well, as the computer does not always recognise certain elements of the claim form.  For example if you have undeclared land which can be of a very small area in the 0.01 ha region or less, the RPA computer automatically states that you have not met the Greening rules even if you actually have. It is always worthwhile checking that all areas of land have been allocated a code and that you have double checked the Greening and crop diversification rules manually, and not just rely upon the RPA online system to automatically calculate the required area.

Take two screenshots & “notified errors”

If after submitting your BPS application form you realise that you have made a mistake, if possible always resubmit a new application prior to the 15th May and the RPA will use the latest submitted document. (Even if it is after the 15th May you can make certain changes without penalty up to 31st May, and you can make changes (with a 1% penalty per day after 31st May) up to the 10th June.) It is vital to take a screenshot of the application just before you submit, and also just after you have submitted the claim form, and keep these on your computer with a hard copy on file so that if the RPA computer has a wobbly (which it does) and loses or creates something else, you have evidence to back up your BPS application. If you realise that you have made an error on your application after the deadline for amendments has passed you can still notify the RPA of an error that you have made without receiving a penalty under what is called a “notified error”.   You can do this at any time unless the RPA have already told you of any non-compliance in your application or you have received an advance warning of an inspection. It is therefore always prudent to double check your application before and once you have submitted it to be sure that what’s on the ground and what you have stated corresponds.

Check Claim Statements

Once the application has been submitted many farmers will then await their payment and the claim statement which informs them as to how their payment has been made up. The claim statement must be checked carefully to ensure that no penalties have been applied incorrectly and if one suspects that they have a Payment Query form should be submitted to the RPA as soon as possible to try and rectify the errors. It is worth noting that payment queries can go on for a number of years and that unless it is a very simple error they are not usually rectified until long after the original payment has been received.

It is all in the detail

In spite of being one of the more simple rural payments applications to be submitted, as outlined above there can be a number of different issues that can arise with an application and especially if there are outstanding queries for a number of years.  These can have an ongoing effect for applications from year to year. Therefore it can be useful to seek professional advice with an application to ensure that all the “I’s” are dotted and “t’s” are crossed.

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Hugh Townsend

Hugh Townsend

01392 823935