Under the EU Regulations governing both REPS and AEOS and other area-based payment schemes, a comprehensive administrative check of all applications, including cross-checks with the Land Parcel Identification System, must be completed before any payment can issue. Successive EU audits have made it clear that compliance with the Regulations must be strictly adhered to and that all administrative checks must be passed and eligibility conditions met before payment issues. As a result, the Department is obliged to ensure that individual payments do not issue until all aspects of a farmer’s application are in order, all outstanding documentation provided and all queries resolved. These administrative checks can result in the reduction of payments or the application of penalties, in cases where breaches are identified.
Furthermore under these Regulations, on-the-spot inspections must be carried on 5% of all applications to deliver assurance that farmers are complying with the actions they contracted to carry out under the terms and conditions of the Scheme. Any non-compliances or breaches of these conditions will result in sanctions being applied in accordance with the penalties laid down. Farmers have the right to appeal these penalties if they feel the sanction is not warranted.
A total of 29,500 REPS4 farmers have been paid in respect of 2012, leaving approximately 800 applicants still to receive payment. The applicants have been written to where officials in my Department require additional information to resolve these applications. The outstanding cases are being resolved on an ongoing basis as queries are resolved.
A total of 11,650 AEOS 1 and 2 participants have received payment for the 2012 Scheme year. A total of 2,100 farmers are awaiting payment for 2012 under AEOS 1 and 2. Officials in my Department are processing these cases on an ongoing basis with a view to finalising them as quickly as possible and, again where additional information is required, the applicants concerned have been written to. The majority of the outstanding AEOS issues arising relate to inaccurate or incomplete capital investment claims. The Department continues to actively engage with farmers in these cases in order to expedite payment.
Under REPS, participants have undertaken to deliver a number of measures and a penalty schedule applies where there is non-compliance with these measures. The severity, extent and permanence are taken into account in determining the appropriate penalty.
Together with the discovery of irregularities at the on the spot inspections, all applications are subject to an administrative check which can also lead to reductions. The number of applicants who had a penalty imposed to date in respect of 2012 payments was 1,795. To date, it has been established that 28 of these have a 100% penalty.
Similarly AEOS applicants undertake to carry out certain actions that they have selected from a menu of options. Penalties are imposed where non compliances are discovered whether through on the spot inspections or through administrative checks. Under AEOS, the number of penalties applied for 2012 applications was 642, with 342 applied to AEOS 1 payments and 300 applied to AEOS 2 payments. Further penalties may be applied as outstanding cases are dealt with and resolved. While the exact number of 100% penalties has not been finalised it should be noted that 100% penalties are applied only in a small minority of cases. Such penalties would apply in respect of a most serious breach of the Scheme conditions such as in the case of non-compliance with underlying GAEC and SMR baseline standards.