The sorry saga of UK incompetence in the administration of farm subsidy continues. The Farmers Guardian reports that a large number of payments made to farmers under Organic Entry Level Stewardship (OELS) are being reviewed after Natural England found that some had been overpaid by up to £25,000.
The review covers 1,600 OELS conversion agreements pre-dating 2007 and farmers who have been overpaid could be forced to pay the money back. Any overpayment appears to relate to agreement holders receiving double conversion payments on eligible land or receiving payments on ineligible land.
A spokesman for Natural England says – “We found the problem as part of an internal audit, and in that review we found only a very tiny proportion of agreement holders who have been overpaid.
“We have explained the problems to European auditors and they are happy with the action that is being taken.
“If an error has been paid then we have to put it right in the interest of taxpayers because it is their money we are talking about.”
It is not clear how errors were made on the agreements, but the discrepancies could have come down to an ‘administrative error’ when the forms were processed, or when farmers filled the forms out incorrectly.
The Country Land and Business Association (CLA) this week said it was ‘concerned’ by the recovery and has advised affected members that they can appeal on the grounds of ‘force majeure’.
The CLA has insisted that all affected agreements must be carefully reviewed by Natural England to determine whether the payment can be written-off following the Rural Payments Agency/European guidelines for overpayments.