Owners struggle with SPS red tape

  • Horse owners in England are struggling to register claims for the new Single Payment Scheme (SPS), which eventually promises to yield government payouts of up to £84 per acre.

    The scheme was set up by DEFRA two years ago to replace most existing agricultural subsidies and reduce farmers’ paperwork. But with five weeks until the deadline for registration (16 May), DEFRA is still revising guidelines and changing the application process.

    New to government subsidies, horse owners are struggling with their applications, while the environmental and agricultural guidelines (known as cross-compliance conditions) that must be met to qualify for payments remain unclear.

    “It is a nightmare,” said Rebecca Evans, head of welfare at the Home of Rest for Horses, who is dealing with the subsidy application for the organisation’s 200 acres. “I’ve taken on a whole new job.”

    In order to register land for the scheme, it must have a holding number. Until last month, the application form for this was two pages long, but the Rural Payments Agency (RPA), which is rolling out the scheme, is now issuing 15-page forms, which come with a 40-page guidance booklet.

    DEFRA acknowledges that there is a backlog of registrations, and a spokesman says the RPA has “taken steps to expand capacity to meet demand”.

    She added: “For those who have claimed under old CAP systems, the SPS will undoubtedly represent a simplification, but any paperwork is obviously going to be additional for someone claiming for the first time.”

    Some concerned landowners are contacting land agents for help. Julian Sayers, rural spokesman for the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors, advises caution for the horse industry.

    “People have to understand very clearly cross-compliance and land management. It doesn’t come without strings attached — it involves things like not poaching gateways in the winter,” he said.

    Cross-compliance lists outwintering stock and grazing when the soil is too wet as “hazardous activities”. This will affect all farmers but particularly horse owners.

    Farmer Ian Spincer, who has been helping horse owners register for the SPS through his website thesubsidysite.com, feels that the RPA will take a “common sense” approach to outwintering. “It can be a very healthy way to keep animals,” he explained, “as long as the land has an opportunity to recover over the summer.”

    “Nobody is forced to apply, and it is possible to opt out of the scheme at any time,” concluded a DEFRA spokesman. “But it is important to remember the allocation of entitlements in 2005 is a one-off exercise, so applying by the deadline is very important.”

    Single payment scheme facts

    • The SPS is available to either the landowner or the tenant. Whichever has the use of the land for 10 months of each year will be granted “entitlements” from which to claim payments
    • Payments are not available for land used for recreation — for example racecourses — but will be available where “recreation” is limited to 28 days per year.
    • DEFRA has listed “permitted non-agricultural activities” that can take place over land on the scheme — including “draghunting” and “equestrian activities for which no charge is made”
    • In England and Northern Ireland, payments will be made on a flat rate area basis starting at an estimated £8 per acre for 2005, rising gradually each year to a maximum of £84 per acre in 2012 if the scheme is a success. In Scotland and Wales entitlements will be allocated to farmers who received specific CAP subsidies from 2000-2002
    • After the 16 May deadline there is a 25-day window in which late registrations can be made, although this will incur a penalty. Applications arriving after 10 June will not qualify for the scheme.
    • DEFRA advises people who have not received a holding number to submit a note to that effect with their SPS claim form, in order to meet the deadline
    • For more details and to register for the scheme contact DEFRA (tel: 08459 335577) or visit: www.defra.gov.uk and www.rpa.gov.uk
    • For help with registration visit: www.thesubsidysite.com
  • Read the full story in today’s Horse & Hound (7 April, ’05)

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