A young farmer received a payment to the tune of almost €13,500 under the Young Farmers Scheme after lodging a complaint to the Office of the Ombudsman.
This was one of 163 complaints the Office of the Ombudsman received about the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine last year.
According to its 2020 annual report, over a number of years, this young farmer was repeatedly unable to participate in a scheme aimed at encouraging young people to enter the farming sector.
Young Farmers Scheme
He contacted the Ombudsman when the Department of Agriculture Food and the Marine refused his application for the National Reserve scheme (new entrant category).
The scheme provides income support to people who, among other criteria, have started farming within two years before they apply and have completed a recognised course of education in agriculture.
John had started farming in March 2015. In 2016, he had been interested in applying for the National Reserve scheme.
However, there were no places available on any relevant education course to enable him to be eligible for the scheme.
In December 2016, he was offered a place on a Teagasc course and started this in February 2017.
John applied for the National Reserve scheme in 2017. However, the DAFM refused his application. To be eligible for the scheme, he had to have completed an agriculture course by May 2017.
However, the Teagasc course did not finish until shortly after May 2017.
John applied for the National Reserve scheme again in 2018, having successfully completed his Teagasc course.
However, the DAFM refused the farmer’s application again. Successful applicants would have had to commence farming in 2016 or later.
In John’s case, he had started farming in 2015 and believed he had been unfairly treated.
In relation to his ineligibility for the 2017 scheme, he pointed out that it was not possible for him to start his education any sooner. He stated that relevant courses earlier in 2016 had been booked up by 2015 applicants.
This was a result of over 6,000 applicants being approved onto the 2015 scheme. The department had given priority to those 2015 applicants.
In addition, there were no shorter courses that the man could have completed by May 2017. John argued that, apart from not completing the education course, he was otherwise eligible.
The Ombudsman acknowledged that each of the decisions by the department taken separately was made in accordance with the provisions of the scheme.
However, having considered all the circumstances, he believed that exceptional circumstances applied in the farmer’s case and that he should be allowed onto the scheme.
The Ombudsman asked the Department to review its decision. He also asked the Department to examine applications it received in 2017 and 2018 to see if any other farmer was similarly impacted.
As a result, the Department accepted John onto the 2018 National Reserve scheme. He received a payment of almost €13,500.
The report states that the department was satisfied that “no other applicants had been similarly affected”.
Also contained in this report is a case about a farmer who the DAFM wrong expelled from GLAS – see here.