Farm assist is a means-tested income support scheme for farmers. The annual Farm Assist review form is designed to ensure that the correct level of payment is made to the customer, taking into account any changes in circumstances that may have occurred in the past year.
The means test for Farm Assist takes account of all income sources with certain disregards applicable to specific income sources. Different rules apply to income from farming and other forms of self-employment. Income from certain schemes such as Direct Payments, income from employment and income from property and capital are taken into account. An examination of farm outgoings is also included in the assessment process.
Farm Assist was audited by the Comptroller and Auditor General in 2014 and one of the recommendations from that audit was to enhance the annual declaration review form. The annual review process for Farm Assist has been comprehensively changed to incorporate several elements of means which had not previously been sought and examined during the annual review stage. This revised annual declaration process requires all recipients to make a return to the Department with supporting documentation as to income and expenditure over the preceding year. In line with the recommendation of the C and AG the review form now encompasses 4 pages of information that the customer is requested to provide to my Department. Because the scheme is means tested, these questions focus on possible changes in farm income as well earnings of the partner, if any.
In addition, the form also makes provision for the customer to set out in some detail changes in their outgoings related to the farm expenses. This was introduced in 2016, following discussions with the Farm Representative Bodies who considered that customers should be able to outline the impact of these expenses from year to year.
Given that the form now complies with recommendations from the C and AG and takes account of suggestions made by the Farm Representative Bodies there is limited scope for any further revision. However if the Deputy has specific suggestions he would like to make my Department will be pleased to receive these suggestions and will consider if they can be implemented.