The Department of Agriculture has revealed that it has written off 11,494 overpayments made under the Less Favoured Area Compensatory Allowances (LFACA) scheme between 2007 and 2014.
Of the £160m issued to farm businesses for the LFACA scheme between 2007 and 2014, the total amount overpaid is assessed to be £4.9m between 2007 and 2013.
It is understood that equates to about 3% of the total paid out and is a reflection of the level of inaccuracy in the maps of eligible agricultural land at that time. Overpayments, made to 11,494 farm businesses, averaged £427 per business over that period.
A spokesman for the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) said: “The Less Favoured Area Compensatory Allowances (LFACA) scheme 2007-14 was operated by the then Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD). In the period 2007-13, there were inaccuracies in the sums paid out to individual claimants. These arose from the challenges both of developing and maintaining highly accurate maps of eligible agricultural land.
“Clearly, this is regrettable. However, it did not obstruct the successful completion of the scheme or prevent it from meeting its objectives.
“DAERA recognises the significance of the overpayments which arose during the operation of this scheme. In addition to the audits undertaken by the European Commission and the Northern Ireland Audit Office, the Department commissioned a review of the processes and controls of the LFACA scheme. This review confirmed that land inspection findings were not applied retrospectively due to IT and staffing constraints.
“As a result of this review and a resulting ‘lessons learned’ exercise, DAERA implemented improved processes on risk management, IT functionality and debt recovery across the Department to ensure better services for its customers and that an error of this nature cannot happen again.
“We do not foresee any negative impact on the delivery of Departmental programmes or priorities.”