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Single Farm Payment

Volume 447: debated on Monday 12 June 2006

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what the performance target is of the Rural Payments Agency for the time taken from receipt of an application for a claim form for the 2006-07 Single Payments Scheme to the despatch of the form to the applicant; and if he will make a statement on the progress being made by the agency towards meeting that target. (68862)

The Rural Payments Agency does not have a formal performance target for the despatch of application forms as the vast majority are sent automatically to previous applicants. However, where a request is received the estimated turnaround time is 24 hours. Application forms were also available at RPA sites and could be downloaded from the RPA website.

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what discussions he has had on compensation for farmers' creditors in relation to delayed single farm payments. (68902)

[holding answer 8 May 2006]: The discussions that the Department has had with representatives of the banks and the agricultural supply trade have focused on the payment timetable for the 2005 Single Payment Scheme. Over £1.3 billion, representing 88 per cent. of the total value of those payments, has now been disbursed and the Rural Payments Agency remains focused on paying the outstanding sums as soon as possible for the benefit of all concerned.

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what the long-term plan is for the payment of the single farm payment. (68955)

We are determined that the right lessons are learned from our experience this year with the Single Payment Scheme, first to prepare for the undoubted challenges that will exist in the delivery of the 2006 scheme, and second to move to a more stable position for the 2007 scheme year. Our subsequent plans will be guided by the outcome of the fundamental review of the Rural Payments Agency that my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South announced in her written statement of 16 March 2006, Official Report, column104WS.

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what help is given to farmers to help with problems in filling in single farm payment forms. (68956)

The Rural Payments Agency (RPA) has used a variety of methods to help farmers complete their 2006 Single Payment Scheme (SPS) application form. These measures include:

Pre-populating application forms with as much information as possible to limit the amount of information farmers have to complete by hand.

The 2006 SPS Handbook, which was sent to all farmers along with their application form, which contained section-by-section guidance on how to complete the application form.

The Customer Service Centre (CSC) has been available for callers to contact them with queries via telephone, e-mail or letter. Owing to customer demand, during the peak period, the CSC increased its opening hours.

An annotated application form with text boxes was sent to all potential claimants and was also posted on the RPA website to help guide claimants.

A Q&A is being constantly updated and added to on the RPA website, clarifying some of the queries raised by customers when trying to complete their SPS form.

An advertising campaign has been used in the farming press, to remind customers of the most important parts of the form to complete and also point out the most common errors being made.

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs how many complaints have been received from farmers in the East Riding of Yorkshire regarding the single farm payment scheme; and if he will make a statement. (69319)

Ministers and officials at the Rural Payments Agency have apologised for the delay in making payments under the Single Payment Scheme. As of 25 May over 94,000 claimants to the scheme had received £1.32 billion, representing 88 per cent. of projected payments. As the scheme is administered on a national basis the RPA does not hold statistics in respect of farmers in the East Riding.

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what the estimated cost to date to the industry is of delays in payment of single farm payments. (69561)

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what estimate he has made of the cost to farmers per month in interest payments caused by delays in single farm payments; and for what reason guidelines on set aside have (a) been changed and (b) been changed at this stage of the scheme. (70343)

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what assessment he has made of the (a) total debt and (b) interest on that debt accrued by farmers as a result of the delay in single farm payments in England, broken down by county. (71513)

The EU regulatory window for payments under the 2005 Single Payment Scheme (SPS) is 1 December 2005 to 30 June 2006. The cost to the agricultural industry of these payments being made in one month rather than another depends on individual farmers' circumstances and the use to which the payments are put.

In light of the situation explained by my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South in her written statement of 16 March 2006, Official Report, column 104WS, various managerial and procedural changes have been introduced during the past few months in order to increase the flow of SPS payments. These have contributed to the position where over £1.3 billion, representing 89 per cent. of the total value of such payments, has now been disbursed.

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what steps he is taking to ensure that the single farm payment for 2006 is paid on time. (73540)

The payment window for the 2006 single payment scheme opens on 1 December 2006 and runs until 30 June 2007.

The Rural Payments Agency is working hard to ensure that payments are made as soon as possible within this time frame. Staff have already started basic validation checks on a proportion of the 2006 application forms.

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry on the impact of the late payment of claims under the 2005 Single Payment Scheme on the competitiveness of English agricultural businesses with their counterparts in other EU countries. (66705)

The timing of payments under the decoupled Single Payment Scheme (SPS) only affects the competitiveness of agricultural businesses to the extent that SPS claimants treat those payments as though they remain coupled to production. Discussions within Government and with stakeholders has highlighted widespread recognition of the potential benefits to the English agricultural industry, relative to its counterparts in most other EU member states, that were provided by the decisions made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South (Margaret Beckett) to introduce the SPS at the earliest possible date and not to take up any of the options to retain coupled EU direct payments.

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what grounds she has given to the EU for the basis for the extension in the timescale for single farm payments. (68652)

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what measures are being taken by his Department to facilitate payments due under the Single Payment Scheme by extending the permitted time frame; and if he will make a statement. (69564)

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs if he will make a statement on the Government's application to the European Commission to delay the payment of single farm moneys to English farmers. (71834)

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what discussions his Department has had with the European Commission on extending the window for single farm payments beyond 30th June. (74772)

[holding answer 5 June 2006]: While the intention has been, and remains, for the Rural Payments Agency to make outstanding payments under the 2005 Single Payment Scheme as soon as possible, it has always been the case that some payments may be made after the end of the EU payment window on 30 June. In those cases, the claimant will still be paid in full, but EU funding of those payments could be reduced. With that in mind and to safeguard the interests of UK taxpayers, a request was made to the European Commission in April to extend the payment window. Subsequent discussions with the European Commission suggest that a formal extension is unlikely, but those discussions will continue, focused on the EU rules governing the funding of payments made after the end of the payment window.

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what estimate his Department has made of when all single farm payments for this year will have been completed. (72492)

[holding answer 22 May 2006]: The RPA has not provided a timetable for the completion of outstanding payments, although it is endeavouring to make payment to all 2005 single payment scheme applicants by 30 June.

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what measures he is taking (a) to ensure that outstanding applications under the Single Farm Payment Scheme are processed as a matter of urgency and (b) to improve efficiency in handling payments under the scheme. (76032)

As of 5 June the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) has paid just under £1.33 billion to nearly 96,000 customers, representing 89 per cent. of projected expenditure to 80 per cent. of eligible claimants. RPA’s top priority is to pay those claims worth more than €1,000 that have not yet received any payment. The majority of these cases have been allocated to an individual member of staff to resolve any outstanding validation issues and proceed to payment as soon as possible. In a number of cases, this will require the discussion of outstanding validation issues with the claimant.

RPA is reviewing its approach to handling claims to 2006, building on lessons learned in processing 2005 scheme claims.

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what percentage of single farm payments remain outstanding in (a) Hereford constituency, (b) Herefordshire and (c) England. (76217)

The total number of single payment scheme customers is now approximately 120,000. As at 6 June 2006, 20 per cent. (24,000) customers had not received either a full or partial payment.

Details of payments made in England up to 30 June 2006, including by constituency and county, will be published in due course.

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what assessment his Department has made of the merits of raising the threshold for single farm payment minimum acreage to one hectare; and if he will make a statement. (73469)

[holding answer 25 May 2006]: Under EU legislation governing the single payment scheme (SPS), member states may set a minimum area for the establishment of SPS entitlements, which cannot be higher than 0.3ha. Following discussions between the Department and the devolved administrations, the UK made maximum use of this flexibility in adopting a minimum area of 0.3ha. The establishment of entitlements is, with very limited exemptions, a one-off exercise undertaken in the year the SPS is introduced. In the UK, this was 2005. Even if it were possible, therefore, for the UK to now set a higher minimum area, it would have little, if any, practical effect going forward.

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs whether his Department plans to introduce a threshold below which single farm payments are deemed negligible; and if he will make a statement. (73471)

[holding answer 25 May 2006]: Under EU legislation governing the single payment scheme (SPS), member states may set a minimum payment figure of 100 euros. That provision is not currently used in the UK, but is among the issues that will be considered further in preparation for the introduction of the 2007 scheme.

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs if he will make a statement on the costs of installing the computer system which processes the Single Payment Scheme. (74070)

The overall cost of the Accenture contract is £53.8 million. This includes not only the development of the core SPS processing system but also a Rural Land Register, Customer Register, Customer Service (Call) Centre and Document Management Unit.