All applicants under the Single Payment Scheme and other area based schemes are obliged to comply with the requirements of the Cross Compliance regime and my Department is required to carry out annual inspections to ensure compliance with the associated EU regulatory requirements. These inspections are mandatory and there are certain minimum numbers and types of inspections that must take place annually.
The rate of inspections for cross-compliance is 1% of applicants to whom the Statutory Management Requirements (SMRs) and Good Agricultural Environmental Condition (GAEC) apply. However, 3% of farmers must be inspected under the bovine identification and registration requirements while 3% of sheep/goat farmers must be inspected covering 5% of the flock.
EU regulations governing the Cross Compliance regime prescribe a range of penalties to be applied where a non-compliance with the relevant legislative provisions has been identified. Where the non-compliance is due to negligence the penalty is 3%, which can be reduced to 1% or increased to 5% depending on the extent, severity and permanence of the non-compliance. Where the non-compliance is determined as intentional, the standard reduction is 20%, but this can be reduced to 15% or increased to 100% depending on the extent, severity and permanence.
While a red or yellow card procedure is not provided for, a tolerance system has been developed and implemented. Where a non-compliance is deemed to be minor in nature, tolerance may be applied resulting in no financial sanction and the applicant is advised to remedy the problem. However, where the minor non-compliance is not remedied within a certain period a penalty of at least 1% is applied.
A comprehensive appeal mechanism is also in place in order to protect the interests of farmers who have difficulties with the inspection findings or who consider that the inspection has not been conducted in accordance with legislative requirements. This appeal system incorporates the option for a farmer to initially seek to have the inspection outcome reviewed internally by an officer more senior than the inspecting officer. Where the farmer remains dissatisfied, the decision can be appealed to the independent Agriculture Appeals Office and ultimately to the Office of the Ombudsman.