Yesterday Baroness Byford, a Shadow DEFRA minister who has considerable experience in the field of agriculture*, asked about the overpayment of hill farm allowance in 2006.
"To ask Her Majesty’s Government how many farmers are affected by the overpayment of the hill farm allowance in 2006; and what is the scale of that overpayment.
The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change & Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): My Lords, final figures for 2006 will not be known until work to confirm the existence and level of debt has been completed. However, it is expected that the exercise will affect between 1,000 and 2,000 farmers, with an overpayment value of between £1 million and £2 million.
Baroness Byford: My Lords, that really is a very unsatisfactory position. I am sure that the Minister will agree that the RPA payments system is appalling and its continuing incompetence is unacceptable. Has the RPA sent out letters to all farmers who were overpaid, and what information was given to those farmers about what overpayments were due?
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, the noble Baroness is aware of the problems that the RPA has had, which led in the first place to what might be described as interim payments being made in relation to the hill farm allowance. Work is still being undertaken. I understand that stakeholders were notified last November that the overpayment process would begin. Work is now being undertaken and I understand that it will be completed in the next two months. Letters are likely to be sent out in March."
Might it not be best just to write it off?!
*Pun acknowledged, and apologised for.