Farm Ireland
Independent.ie

Sunday 19 February 2017

'Farmers calling the Department get through 75% of the time'

Published 26/10/2016 | 14:09

General Secretary of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine Aidan O'Driscoll addressing the Oireachtas Agriculture Committee.
General Secretary of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine Aidan O'Driscoll addressing the Oireachtas Agriculture Committee.

The Department of Agriculture has put in place a new phone system, which it says has solved much of the difficulties experienced by farmers last year in contacting the Department.

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Addressing the Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture last night, the General Secretary of the Department of Agriculture, Aidan O’Driscoll conceded that his Department ‘fell down’ in terms of telephone communications with farmers last year.

“Farmers do like to be able to pick up a phone and talk to a human being,” O’Driscoll said.

“One thing that did fall down is response rate on the phone. Farmers couldn’t get through, advisors couldn’t get through, even TDs couldn’t get through.

“We were getting it in the neck from everybody,” he said.

However, he highlighted that the Department introduced more than 20 new schemes last year and this coupled with reduced staff numbers were some of the reasons why the Department ‘struggled’.

The Department boss said a new system has been put in place and added that ‘it seems to be doing really well’.

“At the moment we are getting a 75% response rate on phone calls that means that 75pc are answered on the spot. The others go to voice mail and we call back.

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“About half the queries can be dealt with on the phone the other 50pc have to be referred on to someone else as they are more complex.”

O’Driscoll said farmers want an effective human contact. “They're not ringing for a chat,” he stressed.

Department moving online

According to O’Driscoll, the future is online applications and really effective telephone systems.

He told TDs that he ‘completely takes the point that farmers want human contact’, however, at the same time he said the Department are ‘going down the route of increased automation and online’.

“Now are they a contradiction?, personally I don’t think so,” he said.

“By going down the online route what that really means is that the initial trigger for schemes and payments is done much more quickly.

Online, he said allows pre-checks to be done before any penalty is applied on the basis the Department can contact the farmer and tell him/her to amend their application.

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