Upper Bann MLA Jo-Anne Dobson has voiced frustration after learning that more than 650 farmers who have had their applications to the Basic Payment Scheme turned down due to active farmer status are still awaiting the outcome of appeals.
In total 883 applications which had been turned down on the grounds of active farmer decisions were appealed with just 248 having been completed to date.
The figures came to light as a result of a written question submitted by the Ulster Unionist MLA for agriculture minister Michelle McIlveen.
Mrs Dobson asked how many applicants for the Basic Payment Scheme who were turned down under the active farmer definition are still awaiting a decision on their appeal.
Commenting on the situation Mrs Dobson said it was a case of new farm minister, same old story.
Describing the backlog as disgraceful, Mrs Dobson said: “In total 883 applications for the Basic Payment Scheme were turned down and with only 248 completed that leaves behind a staggering 635 outstanding.
“Back in 2014 I warned the then Sinn Fein agriculture minister that the active farmer definition was a bureaucratic train wreck waiting to happen.
“Here we are – two years on – and farmers are left facing the brunt of the DAERA’s incompetence – a new DUP minister in charge and the same old DARD attitude to farmers remains.
“While the new minister confirms that she has increased the number of ‘case officers’ dealing with the backlog and has also put in place a ‘team of technical advisors’ this will come as cold comfort to the many farmers for whom the damage has already been done.”
In conclusion the Upper Bann MLA said: “Farmers want less DAERA and not more - less interference and more freedom to farm.”
In a statement a spokesperson for the Department explained: “The introduction of the Basic Payment Scheme included a requirement that applicants had to be actively farming all the land they claim. It is entirely appropriate that agricultural subsidy is directed towards productive farmers and DAERA wants to ensure that money is targeted towards those who are actually farming the land
“As a result, DAERA introduced a new Active Farmer control in 2015, which was applied to around 26,500 applications. Where this control identified applications with very low or no agricultural activity, applicants were requested to provide further information on the farming activity they were engaged in to evidence they were actively farming the land.
“In its first year of implementation, further information was requested from around 3,000 applicants. On the basis of this information, DAERA was able to identify around 1,300 of these applicants as eligible farmers.
“Applicants who were not found eligible had the right to seek a review of this decision and around 900 chose to do so. DAERA is currently considering these reviews in the order they were received. At this stage, review decisions are outstanding on around 600 cases.
“Where people have been asked to provide further information, I would encourage them to do so as quickly as possible, as this will speed up consideration of their application. Farmers who are actively farming should have no difficulty in proving their farming activity.”
The statement concluded: “There was a significant increase in the number of requests for review received for 2015 decisions, largely due to the introduction of new schemes with new rules.”