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Poor rural broadband punishing farmers forced to fill in forms online

Forcing farmers to fill out forms online is putting the digital cart before the rural broadband horse, an agricultural charity claims.

Upper Teesdale Agricultural Support Services (Utass) says the government has ordered farmers with poor rural broadband and even without computers to go online complete forms for to farm payments, movement of livestock, training, and health and safety.

Diane Spark, project manager of the charity, told the Northern Echo that less than a third of the charity’s 476 farm business members had access to broadband.

“I think it is wrong. No other industry has been forced down this road in order that people get what they are entitled to,” she told the newspaper.

Spark added that the Digital by Default initiative, where eventually all documents connected with the Rural Payments Agency will have to be completed online, would penalise those with little or no access to the internet.

Spark added that 200 farmers needed help from the charity to fill out payment forms online.

“They need someone to sit with them and help them work through it. Get one digit wrong and you can lose your whole payment,” she said.

She added that Defra advised farmers needing help to complete forms to go to a library or ask family and friends to help out.

A Defra spokesperson told the Echo that the department was committed to helping farmers develop digital skills and would support them through investments in rural broadband.

Image: Geograph/Evelyn Simak/Creative Commons

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