UK Government

News Distribution Service (National): Embargoed until 00.01am on 16 December 2009 : Ombudsman reports on Rural Payments Agency's maladministration

Press Release   •   Dec 16, 2009 11:49 GMT

Issued by the News Distribution Service on belhalf of the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman

Parliamentary Ombudsman, Ann Abraham, called on the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) to apologise and pay compensation for the maladministration of the Single Payments Scheme in a report laid before Parliament today, entitled: Cold Comfort: the Administration of the 2005 Single Payment Scheme by the Rural Payments Agency.

Problems with the 2005 Single Payment Scheme have been in the public domain for some time. What the Ombudsman's report adds now are her findings of what happened to individuals who sustained an injustice due to RPA's mistakes.

The report sets out the results of the Ombudsman's investigation of two representative complaints about the administration of the 2005 Single Payment Scheme by the Rural Payments Agency, part of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).  These two complaints are representative of twenty two other complaints made about the 2005 Single Payment Scheme in England.

In the report Ms Abraham said:

'These failures of the 2005 Single Payment Scheme took a direct personal and financial toll on the two farmers whose complaints I have investigated.

My report shows that the RPA was unable to keep its timetable for handling the digital mapping of land or for making payments to farmers. But RPA continued to tell farmers that it would keeps its payment timetable, when it knew, or should have known, that the timetable was increasingly unrealistic.  In the language of the Ombudsman's Principles RPA failed to get it right, to be customer focused, or to be open and accountable....'

The reader of this report will see that the remedies I have recommended are modest, particularly set against the overall cost of the Single Payment Scheme. But my recommendations go beyond what Defra believes is appropriate.

Important principles are at stake here. My view is that an appropriate remedy should be forthcoming where injustice has been suffered as a consequence of maladministration by a public body.

...it also saddens me that a public body refuses to provide relatively modest financial remedy for substantive injustice to people whose complaints have been referred to the Ombudsman by Members of Parliament and which the Ombudsman has upheld following an independent investigation.'

Defra have not accepted the Ombudsman's recommendations in full.

A summary of the report is attached to this release.

Notes for Editors

1. In 2005 the Single Payment Scheme based on land area replaced the previous production-based system of farm subsidy within the European Union. Farmers in England receive about £1.6 billion a year under the Scheme.

2. The National Audit Office has issued three reports on the Single Payment Scheme in October 2006, December 2007 and October 2009. The first report by the National Audit Office on the Single Payment Scheme (October 2006) included research that revealed, among other things, that delayed payments had been a source of increased stress for 20% of the farmers surveyed.

3. The management of the Single Payments Scheme was reviewed by the House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee and the House of Commons Committee of Public Accounts.

4. Ann Abraham holds the post of UK Parliamentary Ombudsman and is also Health Service Ombudsman for England. She is appointed by the Crown and is completely independent of Government and the NHS. Her role is to provide a service to the public by undertaking independent investigations into complaints that government departments, a range of other public bodies in the UK, and the NHS in England, have not acted properly or fairly or have provided a poor service. There is no charge for using the Ombudsman's services.

5. The Ombudsman welcomes the Public Administration Select Committee's (PASC) December 2009 report Parliament and the Ombudsman. In their report PASC draw attention to the constitutional issues when the Ombudsman takes the exceptional step of issuing a report indicating that the Government is failing to take steps to remedy injustice she has found it has caused.

6. For other media enquiries please contact the PHSO Press Office on 0300 061 4996. The full report is available to download at: www.ombudsman.org.uk


The full Report and Summary can also be viewed as attachments on the NDS website  by going to the following link:

http://nds.coi.gov.uk/Content/Detail.aspx?ReleaseID=409589&NewsAreaID=2&ClientID=403

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