UK: Single Payment Scheme Round-Up

Last Updated: 8 November 2006

Voluntary Modulation

EU farm ministers have recently been discussing the issue of voluntary modulation. Whilst the 2005 pre-Christmas budget deal set out that Member States would be able to levy rates of up to 20% if they wished, no detail about the scheme was included.

However, the EU Commission is not in favour of the scheme, and appears to be trying to thwart it by imposing strict rules. They are planning on applying the same model as used for compulsory modulation: a €5,000 franchise, minimum spending on certain ‘axes’ and implementation at Member State level. Furthermore, an element of co-funding might still be required, and rates would have to be set for the entire 2007- 13 period. Obviously, all this makes the concept of voluntary modulation much less attractive.

The UK, as the only country currently using the provision, is arguing against these measures. It wants the present system to be rolled over almost unchanged: no franchise, maximum flexibility on spending and devolved regions able to set their own rates. One change that will be sought from the current system is a weakening of the co-financing provisions. The UK has support from other Member States, but it may not get all that it wants. Farm Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel has indicated that whatever rules are agreed to now would still be up for review in the 2007/08 Health-Check, along with the rate of compulsory EU modulation.

SPS Appeals

Until now the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) has not had an Single Payment Scheme (SPS) appeals procedure, as there have not been any appeals to process. However, appeals are starting to occur now that some farmers have had penalties applied to their Single Payment for breaches identified in their cross-compliance inspections. The RPA has thus set up a formal appeals procedure consisting of three stages; we have provided guidance on the process below.

Prior To The Formal Stages

If there is an error with your entitlement allocation or payment, you should write to the RPA setting out your reasons for contesting the decision. If the RPA rejects your written petition it will notify you in writing of your right to appeal and enclose the Stage 1 form (SP6) and Guidance Booklet. The booklet is also available from the RPA website, click on ‘Customer Focus’ and then ‘Appeals Procedures’.

Stage 1

You must respond within 60 days of receiving the RPA letter by completing the SP6 form and sending it to the Customer Relations Unit (CRU). The CRU ‘aims’ to respond, in writing, within 90 days of receiving the SP6; if it rejects your appeal it will send you a SP7 form attached to a case summary.

Stage 2

Complete the SP7 form and return it to the CRU within 60 days with a cheque for £100 payable to the RPA. You can opt to put your case forward, in person, to the Appeal Panel (three independent members) who will consider your case. If your appeal is successful the £100 will be refunded. The panel makes a recommendation to a minister who will then make the final decision.

Final Stages

If the minister rejects your appeal you can challenge the decision through the Courts or, if there has been maladministration, you can get your MP involved with the Ombudsman. There are no definite time limits on the Stage 2 procedures, so the whole process could be lengthy and it is all at the appellant’s cost, even if the appeal is successful.

Top And Bottom Limits On Payments?

The proposal to impose an upper limit on payments (capping) may get a boost at the Health-Check with the inclusion of the disclosure of payments made under the CAP. Until now, Member States have had the right to keep payments made under the CAP confidential, but as part of its European Transparency Initiative 1 the Commission wants to make it compulsory for Member States to publish a list of all beneficiaries (the UK already does this). Commissioner Fischer Boel argues this point by stating that EU citizens have a right to know what their money is being spent on.

There may not just be limits at the top end either. Commissioner Fischer Boel has questioned the efficiency of thousands of very small payments to farmers, as the administration costs are higher than the amounts actually paid out, suggesting that a minimum cap may also be necessary.

Don’t Forget To Complete Your SPR

Farmers in England should by now have completed their Soil Protection Reviews (SPR), having passed the 1 September deadline. The SPR forms part of the crosscompliance rules, and those farmers who have not yet completed it stand to lose part of their Single Payment.

All SPS claimants in England should have been sent a SPR booklet that needs to be filled out (mainly tick-boxes and some text), kept on farm, and updated on a regular basis. It is not designed to be an arduous procedure, but rather a means for the farmer to identify areas requiring attention in order to minimise the chances of soil erosion. Anyone inspecting under cross-compliance is likely to ask to see it.

The SPR is available online at 802571CE004502B5. Warning: it can take a long time to download.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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