Farm Ireland

Monday 23 April 2018

Farmers angered by department's overclaim letter

ACA says changes messed up applications and caused 15,000 query letters to be issued, writes Darragh McCullough

Darragh McCullough

Darragh McCullough

Up to 15,000 farmers were left fuming this week after they received letters informing them that they had overclaimed on their farm payment applications.

The Department of Agriculture-headed letters, such as this example (right), highlighted situations where farmers were told they had overclaimed in their applications by as little as 0.03ha.

Other farmers were informed that they were guilty of 'dual claims' because they had included land on both their forestry premia and Single Farm Payment (SFP) applications. This is despite the fact that the same farmers had followed Department guidelines to include the parcels at 'zero' reference hectares in their applications.

Agricultural Consultants' Association (ACA) members report that they have been inundated with calls from angry farmers.

"Some farmers are furious with us because they think it's our fault for not having their paperwork right when the application went in in the first place," said ACA member Pat Minnock.

However, Mr Minnock said the problems were the result of actions followed by the Department.

The letters were sent out to farmers despite the fact that Department officials assured consultants just six weeks ago that applications correct to 0.1ha would be acceptable. The ACA also claimed the system that operated in previous years -- where queries regarding dual applications were initially followed up with the consultant handling the application -- was dumped due to outsourcing by the Department.

"Last year, if there was a query regarding an application, it would be emailed to us before a letter ever went out to the farmer," explained agri-consultant Tom Dawson. "Often we would have the problem sorted if it was something simple like a dual-claim query by the time the farmer rang us."

Also Read

This year, in an effort to cope with the huge backlog of work associated with the redigitisation of 100,000 maps, the Department outsourced the printing of the query letters. As a result, no preliminary emails were sent to farm consultants.

The ACA estimates that the whole debacle will cost its members thousands of euro in extra administration costs as consultants attempt to deal with the extra queries.

"There were less than 5,000 of these type of query letters last year," said Mr Minnock. "Now every advisor -- whether they're working privately or with Teagasc -- is going to be spending days and weeks ringing and posting clarifications back to Department officials."

However, Mr Minnock was keen to stress that he would not be looking for extra money from his clients to cover the extra costs involved because he had agreed a fixed fee with them already. However, he is worried that the "nitpicking" by the Department will delay payments for hard-pressed clients.

Irish Independent