New legislation will make the financial penalty applied to farmers in Northern Ireland in the event of repeated negligent breaches “fairer and more proportionate” than the current regime.
That is according to Agriculture Minister, Edwin Poots, who, earlier this week, confirmed that changes to the cross-compliance penalty regime, which will impact the Basic Payment Scheme, for example, will come into effect from October 24th, 2022.
He revealed that his department is planning “significant” changes to move from a “punitive” Cross-Compliance model to a “simplified” set of farm sustainability standards.
DAERA will tailor them to suit the requirements of the industry in Northern Ireland, while still ensuring “an appropriate” level of protection for animal and human health and the environment.
Under the existing arrangements, DAERA can consider certain repeated negligent breaches intentional, attracting “very high” financial penalties.
The new regime means that DAERA will cap these repeated negligent penalties at 15%.
“This is a much fairer approach to our hard-working farmers. This is only possible because we have left the European Union and can now make decisions to suit local needs.”
Simplified penalty scheme
The Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) is among those who are “fully supportive” of the changes we have outlined above.
The farm group stated that it the new rules would ensure DAERA applies fairness and that it gives more appropriate financial penalties in the event of repeated negligent breaches.
It added that it “never agreed” to the old policy that a penalty could be classified as “intentional automatically”.
“This approach was totally unfair as many farmers get caught up in the busyness of running the farm business, bringing with it significant pressure, and did not understand the consequences of doing something the wrong way,” its president, David Brown, stressed.
“The regime, as it was, was totally rigid. DAERA did not clearly communicate information and standards it expected of farmers.”
“These changes to the regime will create flexibility and a simplified penalty scheme that farmers can understand.”
“We fully agree that repeat and intentional serious offences must be punished. However, too many farmers were being treated unfairly.”
“They were being handed heavy penalties for breaches that were committed innocently as they went about their day-to-day work with no awareness of the implications,” he concluded.