The Rural Payments Agency (RPA) has trebled the number of staff manning its helpline and extended its opening hours for landowners trying to register for the Single Payment Scheme (SPS).
Two weeks ago, Horse & Hound reported on the impenetrable bureaucracy owners and tenants of land grazed by horses encountered when trying to register for the SPS.
The farming press has described similar chaos and the National Farmers Union and Country Land and Business Association have stepped up pressure on the government to enable everyone to be registered before the 16 May deadline.
Ian Spincer, founder of advice website www.thesubsidysite.com, carried out a survey of 1,000 people who contacted him.
He said: “I’ve had about 200 replies, 50% of whom are extremely worried that they’re not going to make the deadline because they can’t get through to the RPA helpline, and because it’s taking so long to receive their forms. Having said that, it does seem to be getting easier to get through [on the RPA helpline] now.”
According to a spokesman for the RPA there are now 180 staff manning the helpline and the SP5 forms — for landowners who already have holding numbers — went out before Easter.
“A further 19,000 forms are going out to new customers this week, so if they haven’t received them by Friday [22 April], they must get in touch,” continued the spokesman, adding that forms should now be “very definitely” sent to customers within a week of registration with RPA — instead of the six weeks some have experienced.
A DEFRA spokesman said: “With a month to go, people should just keep on trying to get through to the RPA helpline.”
Both DEFRA and the RPA strongly advise landowners to fill in the SPS registration form and return it before 16 May — whether or not they have a holding number or have their completed maps (a map of each owner’s land is required to show the exact acreage to be claimed).
“I’m advising people to copy their forms, send in the SPS form with a covering letter to say why they haven’t got a holding number or map, but still apply for them separately,” added Ian Spincer. “DEFRA and the RPA should marry up the information.”