Farmers using food banks after government payment delay

Image caption Commons farmers in areas such as Cumbria, North Yorkshire and Dartmoor are still waiting for their full basic payment

Hill farmers have had to use food banks following the government's failure to pay more than a thousand of them their EU subsidies, the BBC has learnt.

The Rural Payments Agency is still reviewing the 2015 basic payment claims for 1,200 people.

One couple with two young children said they had defaulted on their rent and were "living off a credit card".

The RPA, the government body that pays farmers' EU subsidies, said it would resolve any issues as soon as possible.

"We know these payments are important for farmers, which is why we are working hard to get them into bank accounts as quickly as possible," an RPA spokesman said.

More on the government failing to pay farmers, and other news

To date, the RPA has been fined £661m by the European Union for late payments. It said it does not know how much is owed in total.

The payments involve those farming on common land, in which land is owned by one person but others are entitled to use it or take resources from it.

Every year farmers receive a basic payment from Europe - depending on how much land they farm - to ensure the stability of the industry and improve the environment.

The BBC understands the issue has arisen from a change in the way land is mapped to calculate the 2015 BPS payments.

Image caption A farming family on the North York Moors have defaulted on their rent

The family, who told the BBC they had been unable to pay their rent, farm 200 acres on the North York Moors.

The woman, who wanted to remain anonymous, said: "In June we had to sell 40 ewes with lambs and this autumn we've sold more female lambs to pay the animals feed bills after our credit ran out.

"We are now are using a credit card to buy food."

The subsidy they have not received, the basic payment, makes up 90% of their farm income.

Julia Aglionby, from the Foundation for Common Land, said: "We are getting increasing numbers of hardship cases as people do not know where to turn.

"It's a catalogue of errors by the RPA."

The charity Farming Community Network said it was issuing food bank vouchers to those with serious cashflow problems.

Image caption The RPA has emailed Mary Alford with promises of payment but she is still waiting

Mary Alford, who farms on Dartmoor in Devon, said she was still waiting for a third of her payment.

"I can't do a cashflow, the deadlines are constantly being broken and no-one is accountable," she said.

The European Commission has not commented on the delay in payments.

Rural Payments Agency problems

  • March 2015: A multi-million pound government IT system to process payments is largely abandoned after performance problems
  • December 2015: Only 38% of claimants paid
  • October 2016: The RPA misses an extended EU deadline for making the basic payments.
  • November 2016: The RPA admits 1,200 commoners claims need reviewing
  • To date, the RPA has been fined £661m by Europe for late payments.
  • The RPA says it is aware of some challenges with a number of common areas and is engaging with those farmers affected

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