This document contains the following information: More cold comfort: how the Rural Payments Agency handled claims to the Single Payment Scheme in 2005 and 2006 tenth report of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration, session 2010 to 2012.
The Parliamentary Ombudsman, Ann Abraham, has upheld complaints from nine farmers about the Government’s handling of a subsidy scheme which caused them to miss out on payments they were entitled to. The farmers complained to the Ombudsman about the administration of the Single Payment Scheme (SPS) in 2005 and 2006 by the Rural Payments Agency (RPA), part of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), The SPS is the latest generation of the EU schemes intended, among other policy aims, to give farmers direct income support. The farmers complained about RPA’s handling of their claims to the SPS on a number of counts, including that they provided poor quality and sometimes ambiguous guidance on how to make a claim; failed to return applicants’ telephone calls when this had been promised; misdirected applicants about the status of their cases; delayed letting applicants know that they would not be paid; and did not explain their decisions properly. RPA also failed to consider the effects their errors and omissions had on the farmers when they came to complain. In one case, a farmer misunderstood the new form and only claimed a subsidy for the year 2005. She did not activate her claim and subsequently did not receive a payment. No one questioned her mistake, even though RPA knew this was a common error by farmers. Losing a payment of over £13,000 left the farmer unable to pay all her bills and reliant on her partner’s goodwill. She found out her mistake almost a year after submitting her claim, when she asked what had happened to her payment. Another farmer also misunderstood the new form and guidance and did not activate his claim. He was then led to believe by the RPA that he would be paid, which was not the case. He and his wife found the confusion and uncertainty of their circumstances particularly stressful. The farmer had to increase his overdraft, sell land and take on extra part time work in order to meet the financial shortfall. As a result of the Ombudsman’s investigation the farmers will each receive a written apology from the Permanent Secretary of Defra and compensation of £500 for the inconvenience, distress and frustration that they experienced. They will also receive individual payments to put right the financial impact of RPA’s failures. In addition, the Ombudsman has also asked RPA to provide an action plan setting out the changes they have made to prevent other farmers experiencing the same problems in future.
This paper was laid before Parliament in response to a legislative requirement or as a Return to an Address and was ordered to be printed by the House of Commons.