163 complaints were received about the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) in 2020, according to the Office of the Ombudsman.
Complaints to Ombudsman Peter Tyndall about all public services, such as those provided by government departments, local authorities and the HSE, remained high throughout last year despite the pandemic, the office notes.
The Ombudsman received a total of 3,418 complaints from the public in 2020; while this is a drop of 6% from the 2019 figures, it is the next highest number since 2015.
Speaking today (Wednesday, June 9) at the publication of his annual report for 2020, Peter Tyndall also announced that this will be his final annual report as he will be retiring from his position after almost eight years as Ombudsman.
The main subjects of complaints about agriculture were:
- The redesignation of Areas of Natural Constraints (70);
- The Green, Low-Carbon Agri-environment Scheme (GLAS) (19);
- The Basic Payment Scheme (13);
- The Forestry Grants and Premiums Scheme (9).
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 (New Entrant) scheme had his application refused by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine 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.
In another case a farmer complained to the Ombudsman after the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine expelled him from the Green, Low-Carbon, Agri-Environment Scheme (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 was found that the department should not have removed the farmer from the scheme but should have issued him with a late submission penalty – when a farmer who is over 25 days late in submitting his annual return is not paid for that action.
The department allowed the farmer back into GLAS which meant that he can receive GLAS payments in the future, provided he meets the relevant criteria. 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, the office notes.