Variations are changes to the Schedule of Works proposed in a Rural Priorities project after it has been approved.
They should primarily be at the request of the applicant when they are unable to keep to the expected timetable of capital works or are unable to manage a particular area as originally planned. Requests from applicants for variations must be submitted in writing, and this can be by letter or by e-mail.
Variations may also be carried out where case officers find errors, for example wrong Land Parcel Identifiers (LPIDs), in the original schedule of works. They may also be required following the inspection or processing of claims. Note that the case officer who was involved with approving the case should process the variation (where possible) as they will have had previous contact with the applicant. If the change has become required due to inspection or claim processing by staff not involved in the approval, they should pass full details to the case officer to allow them to progress appropriately.
Changes may occur:
- Between RPAC approval and contract signing (pre-signing variation);
- Post contract sign and return (contract variation).
Changes must adhere to general principles. These are:
- If the change is to something fundamental such as the timing of works and therefore claim year, the type of works proposed or to particular areas to be managed, there must be some exceptional circumstances or something unforeseen which has caused the delay or change.
- Note that as we approach the end of the current programme period, requests to defer capital works become much more difficult to manage within available budget. This means that unless there are over-whelming circumstances out with the control of the beneficiary then requests of this type will be rejected. It is appreciated that this may mean that some projects do not proceed, unfortunately we cannot transfer unspent funds from one financial year to another.
- The change must not affect the delivery of the regional priority.
- The effect of change must not bring an application score below the approved threshold.
- Any variation request which takes the application score below the approved scoring threshold will be subject to scrutiny to assess if the applicant has proposed work initially simply to attain a higher score. A request to remove that work post approval may be considered circumvention to attain approval and will likely result in the approval being withdrawn. If you suspect circumvention you must refer cases to the RP Business Support Team.
- If the changes are made after a land inspection or claim adjustment, there should be no overall increase in the total area for an option approved in the original contract. It will be acceptable to "balance" different areas of management of the same option where some are found to be larger than expected and others found to be smaller than expected.
- It should be noted that only in very rare cases of force majeure or exceptional circumstances will an increase in value of a contract be considered. Force Majeure will be considered as per Article 47 of EC Regulation 1974/2006 and as set out in the "Important Information Annex" to the Rural Development Contract undertakings. Requests for increases in the value of contracts must be referred to the RP Business Support Team giving full details.
Requests from an applicant for a variation can be:
- Approved in full;
- Approved in part;
Requests to move claim year
When you receive requests to move the claim year(s) for a project back, you should consider whether it is possible to move only a proportion of the costs. In many cases applicants make significant progress with their project but are prevented from completing all phases by, for example, bad weather. In these cases it may be more appropriate to move only that part of the work not completed (and paid) into the following year.
This has the dual benefit of improving the cash flow of the applicant and also ensuring that our budgetary profile is not altered too much. As noted above however, due to the approaching end of the current programme, requests to defer work or move claim years back can only happen of there are overwhelming circumstances out with the beneficiaries control. All requests which the case officer considers could be accepted must be forwarded to the RP Business Support Team for confirmation of the decision.
If it is possible to split the claim years in this way you should ensure that the value of grant in the first year is no more than 70% of the total grant. If the grant allocated to the first year is 70% it will be possible to have interim claims and a final claim in that year. However there can be only one claim (final) in the next year.
Types of acceptable variation
As mentioned above, variation requests can only be accepted in writing by letter or e-mail. If a submitted claim suggests a change to the contract, the case officer must contact the applicant and ask for the potential change to be confirmed in writing. The amended contract must still enable the applicant to deliver the selected Regional Priority as set out in the outcome plan. Even a relatively small change to the contract might mean that the Regional Priority can no longer be achieved as set out in the Outcome plan. Applicants are expected to fulfil contract obligations.
Where a Standard Cost capital item has been deferred due to exceptional circumstances the applicant will be able to defer the associated first year's management payments.
It is expected that only the following types of variation will be considered:
- Change to timing of work/claims due to exceptional weather conditions, preventing the project from proceeding as planned, or other circumstances outwith the control of the applicant (but see above);
- Force majeure (as defined by Article 47 of EC Regulation 1974/2006 and as set out in the "Important Information Annex" to the Rural Development Contract undertakings);
- Claims (but not part claims) for less than the amount approved in the contract. For example, fencing or other standard capital items not required to achieve the desired outcome(s);
- Correction of Land Parcel Identifiers (LPIDs);
- Changes to LPIDs due to re-mapping (including Positional Accuracy Improvement changes which marginally increase LPID areas);
- Correcting typographic or arithmetic errors;
- Transposition errors, for example mixing a 3 for an 8 or a 5;
- Proposal details affected by delays in contract issue;
- Proposal details affected by changes to scheme guidance since the proposal was committed.
When variations must not be allowed
Variations to contracts must not be allowed if they reduce the ability to deliver the selected Regional Priorities or if they stem from mismanagement by the applicant. For example:
- Requests to remove or substantially reduce Options entered into the proposal in order to secure ranking points;
- Requests made following notification of an inspection;
- Requests to swap the value of unused items for others that were not initially applied for. For example, swapping a fence gate for a stile;
- Requests to include new Options or Priorities. These should be included in a new separate application;
- Requests to move/defer agri-environment areas not managed due to errors on the part of the applicant. If an applicant has not managed an area because of an omission or error on their part, for example sown in an inappropriate crop, this cannot be varied. Note that applicants may request to move areas of management if there are sound environmental reasons, this is especially if the type of management undertaken can produce the same benefits on different areas of land. This is allowed in the context that many options specifically allow rotation of options anyway. The applicant will need to clearly demonstrate why they require to deviate from their original plan. Each request will be considered on its merits.
When a variation is accepted an amended Schedule of Works will be issued. If the applicant rejects the variation then the originally approved contract still stands. If the applicant does not comply with the original or amended contract they risk being found in breach of contract. This may result in recovery action, penalties being applied and/or approval being withdrawn.