The Ombudsman received 163 complaints about the Department of Agriculture in 2020.
The main subjects of complaints about agriculture were the re-designation of Areas of Natural Constraints (ANC) (70), the Green, Low-Carbon Agri-environment Scheme (GLAS) (19), the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) (13) and the Forestry Grants and Premiums Scheme (9).
Complaints to Ombudsman Peter Tyndall about all public services remained high throughout last year, despite the pandemic.
The Ombudsman received a total of 3,418 complaints from the public in 2020, a drop of 6% from the 2019 figures, but the highest number since 2015.
The Ombudsman’s report summarises some of the cases the Ombudsman dealt with in 2020.
In one case, a farmer who applied to the National Reserve Scheme had his application refused by the Department of Agriculture because he had not completed a specific education course by a particular date.
However, the Ombudsman said that there were exceptional circumstances which prevented the farmer from satisfying that specific condition of the scheme.
Following consultation with the Department, it agreed to process the application. The farmer received a payment of almost €13,500.
Expelled from GLAS
In another case, a farmer complained to the Ombudsman after the Department expelled him from GLAS.
One of the criteria for receiving payments under the scheme relates to the requirement to spread slurry.
In the first year of the scheme, the man spread slurry, but he did not submit the relevant annual return. The Department expelled him from the scheme.
The Ombudsman found that the Department had imposed the wrong penalty on the farmer.
It should not have removed the farmer from the scheme, but should have issued him with a late submission penalty.
The Department also agreed to pay the man for most of the work he completed between 2017 and 2019. This amounted to approximately €10,500.
The Department penalised him for being late in submitting his returns and deducted €240 from his payment.