McKee frustration at appeals backlog

Harold McKee
Harold McKee

Ulster Unionist agriculture spokesperson, Harold McKee MLA, has voiced his frustration after learning of a huge volume of appeals still unresolved from the 2015 Basic Payment Scheme.

Following an Assembly Question, Mr McKee, pictured, was informed that 645 appeals to last year’s Basic Payment Scheme are still awaiting a decision.

Mr McKee said: “Through an Assembly Question I have been able to reveal there are an astonishing 645 applications from the 2015 Basic Payment Scheme still outstanding. Despite it being 12 months on from the issuing of the 2015 payments, and most of this year’s also by now being paid, it is deeply frustrating that so many appeals from last year are stuck in the system.

“Last year 1,638 applicants were rejected because they did not meet active farmer rules. Of those, 855 chose to appeal. In my question to the minister I specifically asked her how many of the ongoing appeals were related to the active farming definition. Shockingly in her response the minister revealed to me that, 438, or more than two thirds of all the 645 outstanding appeals, were related to the active farmer requirements.

“The delays in coming to a decision on these appeals are both excessive and unwarranted, and would indicate that the department is not placing enough emphasis on tackling the backlog. Many of the 645 applicants will be angry, and justifiably so, that so much time has passed and yet the DAERA internal appeal panels are no closer to making a decision. Given that the Basic Payments could represent a significant proportion of the annual income of many of the individuals involved, this is simply unacceptable.”

Minister McIlveen has announced that she has commissioned a review of the process by which farmers can ask DAERA to reconsider a decision of an area-based payment.

Miss McIlveen said: “Whilst the current ‘Review of Decisions’ process has been meeting objectives, I am nevertheless concerned by the time taken to issue final decisions.

“I have therefore asked my officials to review our current provision and put in place a process which better meets the needs of farmers for the 2017 Scheme year. This work will be taken forward in consultation with our stakeholders over the coming months.

“However, my immediate priority is to address the timeliness of final decisions for those already awaiting reviews arising from the introduction of CAP Reform area-based schemes. Therefore, my officials will shortly engage with Stakeholders to determine a means by which ‘Review of Decisions’ can be streamlined and made more efficient.”

The introduction of the CAP Reform area based schemes has led to an unprecedented increase in the number of ‘Review of Decisions’ applications received by the Department. ‘Review of Decisions’ is an important part of the decision making process that provides farmers and farm businesses with the opportunity to seek a reconsideration, where they believe the Department did not reach the correct decision in respect of an area-based payment.