Farmers and crofters who have not yet started filling out their Single Application Form (SAF) have been urged to make a start on it now.
NFU Scotland has warned that although the government’s much-criticised Rural Payments and Services system has been improved, it could struggle to cope with an influx of applications in the next month.
As a result, the farming union has called on government to ensure contingency plans are in place to enable farmers to meet the extended June 15 deadline, should more problems arise with the online system.
“Several attempts have been made to improve the performance of the system and it appears that in the last few days the most recent attempts to improve performance have borne fruit. Reports we have had back from advisers and farmers is that the speed of the system has markedly improved,” said NFU Scotland president Allan Bowie.
“These speed improvements need to stick, especially as we expect an increase in the volume of SAF claims submitted in the coming weeks, if online SAF applications are to be submitted in enough numbers between now and the 15 June.”
The union remained convinced that online applications were more beneficial than those done on paper as it would help producers with validation when complying with greening requirements, added Mr Bowie.
“However, we need to ensure that contingency arrangements remain in place should they be required and have pressed the government to make sure the necessary arrangements are in place,” he said.
“We urge those farmers not yet registered on the new Rural Payments and Services system to do so now and encourage farmers not to put off completing their SAF but to start it now. The clock is now ticking please don’t leave it too late.”
The Scottish Government backed the union’s calls for farmers to complete their SAF online sooner rather than later.
A spokeswoman said: “We are aware that some customers and agents have experienced issues with the new system and we have a dedicated team working tirelessly to monitor the system and ensure all problems are sorted as quickly and efficiently as possible.
“We have had some positive feedback in the last couple of days that the speed is improving, which is encouraging. We will continue to monitor closely and work with our customers to address the issues they face quickly.”
Last week, reports emerged that the Home Office had been called in to investigate whether or not contracted workers tasked with developing the Rural Payments and Services website had the necessary visas to work in the UK.
It follows reports from a whistleblower that IT workers’ concerns about problems with the system were ignored by government.
Meanwhile, the latest estimates on the cost of Cap reform implementation suggest it has spiralled to 74% more than first budgeted.
A report released last week by the auditor general for Scotland, Caroline Gardner, suggests that the government’s five-year Futures Programme – designed to implement Cap reform – will cost £178million, up £75.5million from the original budget drawn up in March last year.
The auditor’s report found that the largest area of spend was on the IT delivery partner – up 111% from the original estimated cost to £60.4million, from £28.8million previously.