We were optimistic about the design of the online BPS system. Unfortunately, it is not as good as it would have been with a little more thought. Much of the clumsiness could have been avoided at no extra cost.
The following is a list of tricks and issues that may be of help. As described last month, we have found it useful to copy and paste the field data from the land viewer summary into a spreadsheet to allow checking against last year’s claim and potentially next year’s claim.
The RPA has produced new guidance ‘BPS 2016: Hints and tips on making your application’. This is occasionally revised so needs monitoring.
Display map and application simultaneously
It is possible to open the RPA application for a business two or more times in different tabs of the browser. This allows (for example) the ‘land use’ and ‘field viewer’ to be open simultaneously to cross check information. IT confident users can display each on a part screen or second computer monitor.
When crops or areas are changed the screen resets to the top of the field list. A fix is promised on 26 April. We have found that the grey filter at the top of the screen can help (click on the ‘+’ to activate). If the sheet reference is entered, only the fields on the particular sheet will be displayed so that when data is changed there are fewer parcels to scroll through.
Field transfer – tenants
Occasionally, land is recorded on the system as being occupied by a tenant. Where this is the case, at present, the land cannot be transferred out. The best way to overcome this is to ask the potential recipient to import the land (see Field import).
Generally, it is preferable for the holder of land to effect transfers out. Sometimes this is not possible because, for example, the holder has ceased farming or where the RPA has left the parcel off the application. On these occasions the recipient can import land. The most effective way is to email [email protected] with the precise words in the header: ‘BPS 2016 Add Land’. State the SBI and name of the recipient and list all fields and parcel numbers. Also include your name and contact details. The RPA has said it will give priority to these transfers.
Outstanding transfers of land and entitlements
The online system works well. Many agents have successfully withdrawn transfer applications made on paper and made the transfer online. Make absolutely sure beforehand that the transfer has clearly been withdrawn in writing.
New RLE 1
A new RLE1 is now available. This is much the same as in the past but excludes entitlement block numbers.
Field export to non-agricultural use
Occasionally, the land use table includes land parcels with zero area. On other occasions land may need to be transferred into non-agricultural use. In both situations the parcels can be transferred to a dummy code SBI: 200116651.
Hedges and buffer strips
The online system shows hedges and ditches as lengths rather than areas. These are calculated from the areas submitted last year and may be subject to some quite significant rounding errors.
Where the land is cropped with nitrogen fixing crops or fallow, which also contribute to the EFA, it is necessary to reduce the EFA area stated in the application section under ‘make changes to your application’.
In practice, this is unlikely to be critical since if the EFA is over-claimed the RPA has an obligation to find other qualifying habitat on the farm.
Fallow has a slightly different definition according to whether it is managed just for crop diversification or also for EFA. The most important difference is that as far as crop diversification is concerned, the fallow period is only from 1 May until 30 June – allowing various operations prior to this date.
Where the land only qualifies as fallow for crop diversifications purposes the EFA area should be reduced in the ‘make changes to your application’ section.
Not all features shown on the map viewer are transferred to the land use summary. This is not always obvious, but if not corrected it could mean that entered crop area is greater than the eligible area. No warning is given and, if not spotted, could mean that the application could be penalised for an obvious error.
While the system should flag outstanding RLE1s submitted to change a parcel area, it does not always do so.
Where fields are over about 35 ha, the map print facility does not print boundaries or pifs.
The system is erratic but the land use section should list all features, whether eligible or non-eligible.
It is not necessary to split out stewardship options unless they are needed to supply EFA area or fallow cropping.
Things to check and other issues
Check carefully against last year’s application and, in particular, make sure all parcels are included and entitlements transferred. Entitlement statements will be sent at some point.
The system flags in the land use section where land has not been allocated a land use. If land has not been allocated, the greening check on the application fails. (This check seems to fail for a number of reasons not all of which are identifiable).
Occasionally, fields are prepopulated in the ‘activate less BPS area’, under ‘make changes to your application’, with an area that is less than the eligible area.
Natural surfaced tracks (as last year) are incorrectly treated as not eligible for BPS on the application system.
Ensure that you update your application with the new information before sending and the submission date shown is appropriate.
Triple check your status is appropriate to the task you are carrying out.
If you have made an error you can resubmit.
If there is any doubt, send a covering letter to explain the issues. Since the RPA has been known to claim that proof of delivery signatures relate only to the envelope and not the contents we suggest that any letter is also sent by email attachment to [email protected].
Contacting the RPA
Demand on the RPA call centre is at its lowest between 8.30 am and 9.00 am.