Rural Payments Agency reclaims overpayments

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It has transpired that the RPA has "lost" private details of thousands of farmers

It has transpired that the RPA has "lost" private details of thousands of farmers. After this and other errors in 2009 relating to mapping, the RPA decided to mend some of the holes in its fence - beginning by going after some 1,700 farmers to whom it had overpaid well in excess of £55 million.

One such farmer challenged the RPA under EU Commission regulation 796/2004 when he was sent a demand for over £17,000 of repayments. The overpayments arose because there had been an inputting error when the scheme first started in 2005 which had resulted in him receiving an overpayment of £6000 per year under the scheme.

Paragraph 1 of article 73 provides that "if undue payment is made, the farmer shall repay the amount in question plus interest". However, article 73 provides for a form of statutory estoppel whereby: "The repayment obligation referred to in paragraph 1 shall not apply if the payment was made by error of the competent authority… and if the error could not reasonably have been detected by the farmer." The farmer's solicitor appears to have resisted the flippant response of taking the RPA to task on the meaning of the word 'competent', and merely saw off the RPA's claim by arguing successfully that the farmer could not reasonably have detected the overpayment.

It should be noted that this is not case law, and each case should be judged on its merits. This approach should not be used to counter repayment demands where the farmer has not filled out his claim form properly or has made a fraudulent claim.

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