IFA Rural Development Chairman Flor McCarthy has met the Department of Social Protection in relation to the recent review policy by the Department of most recipients of Farm Assist, which has led to serious concern that Minister Joan Burton was hounding farmers unfairly and carrying out an assessment that did not take into account costs associated with farming.
At the meeting, IFA was told that the contact with farmers at this stage is not a means test but is part of a review and screening process. No decision will be made on foot of the Farm12 form which asks questions in relation to the sales, direct payments and family circumstances. The means assessment will be done on the IN92 form which has been practice for the past number of years and is not being done on foot of the Farm12 form which farmers have received.
Flor McCarthy told the Department any assessment that may follow must take account of all the costs associated with the normal running of the farm and must be done in a fair way. Also the assessment which may arise must take account of past as well as projected farm income. This is necessary due to the fluctuations in farm income.
Flor McCarthy said, “Over the past number of years, the number of farmers has dropped to fewer than 10,000 as well as the average payment dropping. This is a result of the dropping of income and child disregards. These must be restored by the Minister as such disregards are necessary due to the ongoing investment required on farms and the variability of farm income. Comparing Farm Assist with Family income supplement, farmers are been discriminated against as the assessment for FIS is very favourable to families”.
In relation to the new GLAS scheme, IFA has got a commitment that the first €2,540 as well as 50% of the remainder of the payment plus any costs associated with the plan will be disregarded. This is similar to what applied in REPS and AEOS.
Concluding, Flor McCarthy said the Farm Assist and its associated scheme the Rural Social Scheme are a vital support to low-income farmers. Any reassessment must be done in a fair way given the uncertainty and fluctuations of farm income.