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IT errors continue to plague EU single payments scheme

Farmers still short changed

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The Rural Payments Agency still has plenty to do to resolve the IT difficulties it experienced in implementing the EU Single Payment Scheme.

A report by the National Audit Office finds that the agency has yet to deal with all those farmers who were paid too little in 2005 – the first year of the scheme – nor recovered the sums from those claimants who were paid too much.

The Single Payment Scheme (SPS) was introduced to replace 11 separate subsidies with a single payment based on land area.

The progress report says the agency had been plagued by considerable difficulties in capturing and processing information about farmers' land areas and failed to meet its own target dates and the EU June deadline for making payments to farmers. Financial hardship was the result for a large number of farmers.

The report says in the scheme's second year, the RPA improved its handling of farmers' payments by processing 98 per cent of payments by value by the June 2007 deadline. But in estimating that overpayments in 2005 could be as high as £6.8m, with underpayments of £19.3m, it also says the risk of the EU imposing a disallowance penalty remains.

According to the NAO, work is scheduled to "streamline the claim process, cleanse data, improve the quality of management information, and support whole-case working" by implementing a range of major IT releases, together with minor system and process enhancements.

NAO chief Sir John Bourn said: "Since my report over a year ago on the implementation of the SPS, the RPA has made encouraging progress in remedying the problems I highlighted, as demonstrated by an increase in farmers' satisfaction with the handling of their claims.

"But until the agency is in the position consistently to meet the June deadline each year, and can process payments within an acceptable tolerance of error, the risk is that farmers' confidence in the scheme will wane and the European Commission will levy financial penalties."

This article was originally published at Kablenet.

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