Under the Terms and Conditions of the Direct Aid Schemes, which includes the Single Payment scheme, farmers are obliged to declare only eligible land when making their applications and are to exclude ineligible features such as roads, buildings, farmyards, dense scrub, etc. These claims are then recorded on the Department’s Land Parcel Identification System (LPIS). Given the importance of the LPIS database in underpinning direct aid payments worth in excess of €1.5 billion annually, my Department is obliged under EU Regulations to ensure its accuracy.
Following consultation with the EU Commission, as part of the normal Accounting process, my Department was requested to undertake a complete review of the LPIS database. This has resulted in the necessity to adjust parcels of a significant number of applicants, where it was established that some ineligible features had been included. In certain circumstances these adjustments are giving rise to penalties.
The LPIS Review process initiated by my Department consisted on a review of all of the eligible land parcels in the LPIS database, which was declared by farmers under the 2013 Single Payment Scheme, the Disadvantaged Areas Scheme and other Direct Payment Schemes. In total, the Review covered in excess of 132,000 applicants and the land parcels declared by them as eligible for payment under one of more of the above-mentioned Schemes. A comprehensive review and appeals process has been implemented to ensure that the cases of individual farmers are fully scrutinised. In the first instance, a farmer, who finds himself or herself in this position, can seek a review of the original decision by Department officials. If they are not happy with the outcome of the review, they can submit an appeal to the Independent LPIS Appeals Committee , chaired by Mr. Pádraig Gibbons. To date, 90 cases have been forwarded to the Agriculture Appeals Committee on receipt of appeals from the applicants concerned. The committee has not as yet adjudicated on these appeals.
It is important to note that there are some positive outcomes of the current Review from a farmer’s point of view. In the first instance, I announced recently that the number of payment entitlements, which farmers will be granted under the Basic Payment Scheme in 2015 will be based on the 2013 eligible land or in 2015 if it is lower. This means that farmers, who have ineligible land deducted in 2013 as part of this Review, will be protected under the new Regime as their entitlements will be based on the actual eligible land in 2013. In addition, it also means that farmers, who are contributing to the convergence process by having reductions applied to their entitlements, will not see part of the funds used to make payments on ineligible lands.
A deliberate decision was taken late last year not to delay payments to those farmers whose payments were due to be subject to reduction following the outcome of the Review; rather, the payments issued with the sums in question deducted, the farmers concerned being then advised of the reductions and the appeals process. This course of action was specifically designed to ensure that there was no undue delay in issuing payments, while also ensuring that farmers were aware of the appeals process.