Agriculture and Fisheries
Upheld in whole or in part
Non-public interest report issued: complaint upheld
Rural Payments Wales
Mrs D complained that RPW (which manages direct farm support payments in Wales) removed her name from an active farming partnership (jointly held with her ex-husband, Mr D) and blocked her access to its online system. Mrs D complained that:
1.This was done without her written authority and ran contrary to an assurance given by RPW that all transactions and enquiries relating to the partnership would only be actioned if they were in writing and signed by both partners (given that, following Mr and Mrs D’s divorce a number of matters were in dispute)
2.RPW informed her that, at the request of Mr D (supported by a letter from his solicitor), it had amended its records to reflect the cessation of the partnership, making Mr D sole trader of the farming business. However, this was decided without verifying the accuracy of the information with Mrs D or her solicitor.
3.This decision was discriminatory and gave rise to financial losses, along with considerable distress and inconvenience in pursuing her complaints about this matter.
The Ombudsman partially upheld all 3 complaints. With regards to complaints 1 and 2, the Ombudsman found that, in principle, the decisions to remove Mrs D from the partnership title and to amend its records to make Mr D sole trader (partly on advice from his solicitor), were not unreasonable given the exceptional circumstances that prevailed (which involved a seemingly irresolvable dispute that had deadlocked all active business transactions). However, whilst RPW justified its decision-making on the basis of policies regarding exceptional circumstances and its obligation to accept information provided by a registered solicitor, it neither provided Mrs D with these policies nor explained the rationale for its decisions in terms of its attempts to resolve the impasse that had arisen. These communication shortcomings gave Mrs D the impression that RPW had selectively favoured Mr D’s interests over hers and, thereby, gave rise to an avoidable injustice.
With regard to complaint 3, the Ombudsman found no evidence of any intention on RPW’s part to discriminate against Mrs D and determined that her concerns about financial losses were matters that fell within the division and allocation of the material assets of the family farming partnerships (being, as such, a private matter between her and her ex-husband). However, the Ombudsman found that, due to RPW’s poor communication, Mrs D was subjected to avoidable anxiety and inconvenience (which extended over many months) at a time of personal emotional upheaval.
The Ombudsman recommended that RPW provide Mrs D with a fulsome apology for the identified failings and, in acknowledgement of the time and trouble she incurred in complaining, makes a payment to her of £250. The Ombudsman also recommended that RPW provides copies of the policies it relied upon in reaching its conclusions.
RPW agreed to implement these recommendations.