Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Rural Payments Agency's online system

Last week saw a worrying glitch in the Rural Payment Agency’s (RPA’s) online system for claiming Single Payments, the application deadline for which is approaching on 15th May.

I for one was unable to log on to the system over the weekend of 12th and 13th of April and it is understood the problem persisted for some, well on in to the week. On contacting the RPA on Monday 14th April I was told that the problem was not in fact to do with the RPA’s own online system, which I hasten to add is generally excellent, but it concerned a problem being experienced by the “Government Gateway”.

At the time of writing it is not clear whether the problem has been conclusively resolved but what this does highlight is the potential fragility of relying entirely on online systems. This is of particular concern for the RPA who are intending to extend their reliance such systems when the new Basic Payment Scheme replaces the current Single Payment Scheme (SPS) in 2015.

The problems recently experienced were annoying but not catastrophic, but if they had occurred very much closer to the application deadline, the financial consequences of not getting the SPS application submitted on time could have been far more serious.

I am not suggesting we revert to the old paper forms but as our reliance on computers increases so too does our vulnerability to system failures or perhaps more worryingly online fraud of one form or another and in this context many farmers are probably quite exposed. This is because, for older farmers in particular, although many realise embracing computers is now a necessary evil , whether that be to deal with VAT returns or SPS applications, they are not familiar with the online “antics” of some fraudsters which are likely to be more familiar to younger or more frequent users.

Therefore, the government and RPA in particular are urged ensure that the government’s policy of “digital by default” does not leave elderly “non digital” farmers out in the cold and ensures the systems are robust so that all users are able to access the online systems at all times. After all the whole point of digital by default is to increase the efficiency and cost effectiveness of the delivery of schemes such as the SPS and if the systems are unreliable this will lead to frustration and potentially significant financial losses.

James Stephen MRICS FAAV
Rural Practice Chartered Surveyor, Wells

T: 01749 683381
E: james.stephen@carterjonas.co.uk

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