A more flexible approach to cross-compliance penalties

FARMERS selected for a cross-compliance inspection in 2023 will be less likely to be handed a financial penalty for breaches if they can prove they are trying to stick to the rules.

The Rural Payments Agency confirmed it can be more flexible with imposing penalties as it no longer has to follow European Union regulations.

Last year some Countryside Stewardship agreements were still being funded and governed by the EU, which often meant a rigid, minimum financial penalty of 3% – a figure that was often disproportionate to the seriousness or impact of the error found.

The RPA insists the rules themselves have not changed but the new penalties system is less proscriptive, placing more emphasis on guiding and educating farmers than punishing them. The EU’s “inspections” by “inspectors” have been replaced by “visits” from “field officers”, who for the first time are given discretion in some cases to issue warning letters instead of financial penalties.

Cross-compliance breaches are most high in livestock, with ID a particular issue. According to the RPA, around 40% of holdings have cattle identification failings, and 20-25% of sheep holdings have similar issues. The other most common breaches include gaps in nitrate vulnerable zone record keeping, inadequate protection zones around water courses and hedgerows and inadequate measures to stop the spread of contagious diseases, such as late TB tests.

Time to fix any problems

However, the Agency is reluctant to fine such farmers for minor impact transgressions if they have generally showed genuine commitment to the rules by following good on-farm practices of record-keeping and ear tags.

Where a field officer deems a farmer doesn’t quite make the standard but has not been negligent and is no risk to public health, they can issue an “advisory compliance notice” – similar to an advisory notice on an MoT pass certificate and give the farmer time to put it right.

“Farmers will be given a letter telling them where they’ve gone wrong and how to fix it,” says RPA policy advisor Russell Graham. “If the farmer is trying, it will aid their case if we do find problems.”

Cross-compliance will not apply per se from next year because the Basic Payment Scheme will be replaced by delinked payments, although farmers need to be aware most regulations will not change as they will still fall within English law.  Delinked payments will be based on BPS payments received between 2020 and 2022, but farmers should be aware they must must have received BPS payments this year in order to receive delinked payments from 2024-27.

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