Coronavirus: Farmers can apply for self-employed scheme

By Conor Macauley
BBC NI Agriculture & Environment Correspondent

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image copyrightPAUL ELLIS/afp/getty images
image captionTo apply for the grant, farmers must have filled in a self assessment tax form last year

The economy minister has confirmed that all eligible farmers can apply for support under a government scheme to help the self employed cope with the fallout from coronavirus.

It came in a letter from Diane Dodds to the chair of the assembly's agriculture committee, Declan McAleer.

Mrs Dodds said it is not just farmers who availed of a government tax averaging scheme who are eligible.

Mr McAleer said he had been contacted by farmers unsure if they qualified.

Mrs Dodds confirmed that there was no bar on farmers applying as long as they met qualifying conditions.

The payment would see them qualify for a taxable grant worth 80% of their trading profits for three months, capped at £2,500 a month.

Mr McAleer welcomed the news. He said HMRC would contact those eligible by mid May to invite online applications.

The sum due will be based on the last three years' trading profits and will be paid direct to people's accounts.

image copyrightTIM KEETON/EPA

But Mr McAleer said some farmers, particularly those on hill farms, struggled to break even and the scheme would provide little practical support.

He said the reinstatement of a now discontinued subsidy for areas where it was hard to make a living from farming would be more welcome.

He also called on the UK and the EU to fund a package of measures worth £105m which the agriculture minister has said will be needed to offset the impact of coronavirus on the agri-food industry in Northern Ireland.

In order to be eligible for self-employed support, farmers must have filled a self assessment tax form last year.

Business profits must also not exceed £50,000.

Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots said farmers need a package of support to help them deal with the fallout from the pandemic.

"This will help farmers with their household bills, but it will not help them deal with the financial losses that they are suffering," he told BBC's Good Morning Ulster programme.

"There are a lot of small farms out there. They aren't particularly profitable. But never mind being profitable a number of years ago, they're now in significant deficit. Those people need supports, just the way the hospitality sector received support and many other businesses have received support."

Mr Poots said he would be presenting a case to the executive on Wednesday, which will then be sent to the UK government to get a package of support for NI farmers.