Since our last update on the 30th March, at the time of writing (8th April) it appears a number of farmers have found the online application system easy to use and have submitted their claims. However on the 30th March the RPA reported only 2,000 claims had been made online out of perhaps 86,000 (based on 2015 figures). As more people are now starting to make claims online and transfer entitlements, we are getting a clearer picture as to how the online system is doing. Of course, as always, we mainly hear about the problems, as this is when clients contact us, and of course there will be many who have been enjoying the improvements with the new online system.

This year for farmers it will be a matter of luck as to how they get on with their online claim, as the vast majority of problems have been caused by the transfer of the data from the previous paper claims and the partially used previous online system – the “harvesting of the data”. The problems people have been having have been well publicised and the RPA have started to address the issue of missing land parcels, and currently are manually adding parcels to the system in response to emailed requests.

However, probably the most likely cause of future problems is claimants’ relying too heavily on what the online system is actually telling us. A further computer “glitch” has come to light with people making commons claims where claimants going online this year have suddenly found they have small new parcels of land registered in their name scattered over a wide area of which they have no knowledge. Whilst perhaps easy to deal with for some, for others it will only to add to the confusion.

However it is at the end of the process of preparing a claim, having identified the eligible land available and ensuring it is registered in one’s name, when checking the number of entitlements one holds to claim against, where the biggest issues can arise. The “view entitlements” option will show the type of entitlement (i.e. Non-SDA, SDA or Moorland), the number owned/leased in for 2015, and the “use by year”. (It is worth however also checking as to the number of entitlements available by starting the process to transfer entitlements, as this screen seems to show more accurately the number of entitlements.)

Unfortunately the computer glitch identifying many entitlements as having a 2016 “use by year” despite them being successfully activated and paid out on in 2015, which was supposed to be fixed at the end of March, has not yet been corrected. The 2016 “use by year” indicates that these entitlements are going to be confiscated. The latest information from the RPA is that this general glitch may be sorted out now in a matter of days. However in the meantime, until the RPA announce this, even if you are able to contact the RPA and they confirm it is this glitch and that the entitlements will not be confiscated, the screen will be showing the 2016 “use by year”. At the same time however they are saying that you can still transfer entitlements with a “use by year” of 2016. This has created a confusing message where it would be easy for anyone to go online, assume the “use by year” of 2016 means they are available for the 2016 claim, sell the entitlements or rely on their transfer in without asking the RPA the question as to whether there is a problem with them or not. Subsequently the only way to be safe is to obtain written confirmation from the RPA that the 2016 “use by year” is not indicating a real confiscation of entitlements before assuming they are available to transfer or in fact relying on them to submit a claim. Claim statements which are now starting to appear will help with identifying where there are genuine problems. However, it still leaves many in a position where they have been underpaid, have a “use by year” of 2016 and cannot identify whether there is a real problem and it is not just a computer glitch, before they even get a chance to see whether the problem is the RPA making an error when harvesting the information from last year’s claim.

We are getting some farmers already losing confidence in the system. With the long queue for the helpline, some are now buying more entitlements just in case there is an actual problem, to ensure full payment this year and then in due course if it is found there isn’t a problem, selling the excess entitlements next year.

The message at the moment therefore has to remain “do not rely on what you are looking at on screen” – it could be incorrect. Treat the online system more as an easy application process rather than a reliable source of information. If you are forced to rely on only what you are seeing on screen, take plenty of screen shots and when submitting your claim write a covering letter making clear you were relying on information you were looking at online at whatever date you were.

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Hugh Townsend

Hugh Townsend

01392 823935