The Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) has refuted claims that farmers experienced problems accessing the online system for processing applications to the Farm Business Improvement Scheme (FBIS).
Newry & Armagh DUP Assemblyman William Irwin MLA raised concerns with department officials after he was contacted by farmers who were angry at the fact that, in the hours before the scheme closed, the website used by the department developed technical difficulties meaning some were unable to submit their applications.
These claims were rejected by the department, however, with a spokesman confirming the system had been monitored throughout the application process with no indication of problems arising.
Mr Irwin explained: “It is concerning that during the online application process for Tranche 2 of Tier 1 of the Farm Business Improvement Scheme, farmers experienced difficulties with the department website. That has meant that farmers affected by this problem have been unable to complete their applications.
“I have asked department officials to review this issue and investigate what went wrong,” he added.
“In my opinion in this type of deadline situation, departmental computer software should be capable of accepting online applications right up to the deadline without any technical issues.
“The fact that farmers were unable to complete their applications due to a fault with the system means they have been disenfranchised in accessing this important financial assistance. I want to inquire now what options are available to them as I feel strongly that those in this situation should not miss out on this opportunity.
“Department officials are looking into the concerns I have raised on behalf of applicants and I feel it is vital that consideration is given to addressing the difficulties and making some arrangement to accept applications affected due to this fault.”
In response to Mr Irwin’s concerns the department issued a statement.
A DAERA spokesperson said: “The Department has monitored the online application system for performance throughout the application period. There is no indication that there were any faults with the system or with system performance. The Department confirms that applications were being successfully submitted during peak periods of activity and right up until the closing time.
“The online application function was pre-set to shut down at 16.00 hours (GMT) on the 2nd February 2018 and the Department are satisfied that was indeed the case.
“Farmers were clearly advised of the scheme closing time and to give themselves sufficient time to submit their application, along with all supporting mandatory information.
“If further information around the detail of the problems experienced by applicants is provided to Department, we will look into these on a case by case basis.”