Despite a public statement by DAERA Minister Edwin Poots in mid-November 2020 when he said that he would not be overturning decisions made by an independent panel at a Stage 2 review, a number of claimants are still awaiting their case to be finalised.
As reported in the edition dated 12 December, Strangford MP Jim Shannon had established by way of a freedom of information request that up to nine cases were still under final consideration.
In each of these, a claimant to an area-based scheme had challenged a decision by DAERA, and taken their case to an independent panel at Stage 2 of the Review of Decisions process. In these cases, the panel had recommended in favour of the claimant.
However, ultimately the final decision rests with the Department, and officials can ignore the recommendation of the Independent Panel, although the clear position of Minister Poots is that this will not be happening during his tenure.
On enquiry, a DAERA spokesperson confirmed that seven cases remain with the Department following on from a recommendation made by this panel.
“The Department is considering these cases and will issue decisions in due course,” confirmed the spokesperson.
In light of the recent Barnwell Farms judgement (when DAERA lost a judicial review case after going against the recommendations of the panel) and the recent statement made by Minister Poots, Jim Shannon questions why these cases remain outstanding.
“Given the challenges currently facing all government Departments, including DAERA, I am surprised that officials are still spending any time assessing these post Stage 2 Independent Panel recommendations,” he said.
In separate freedom of information requests Shannon has also established that DAERA officials have been working to clear a backlog of legacy Single Farm Payment cases ahead of Brexit. These legacy cases relate to the scheme years 2005 – 2014.
By March 2019 there were 700 cases still considered as “live”, with the vast majority because the claimant had either not submitted bank account details, or not provided Probate details.
By March 2020, only 12 cases remained, and by November 2020 this was down to four. From 15 October 2020, any remaining cases will have to be covered out of national funds, not from the EU.
There are then those cases still in dispute from 2015 onwards. The DAERA annual report and accounts for 2019/2020, published last November, notes that if these claimants are eventually deemed eligible for payments, it could cost in the region of £964,000. However, not all will be successful, so a more likely figure is around £666,000.