The Single Payment Scheme

The EU's main agricultural subsidy scheme for farmers, how to qualify and apply for payment, and Cross Compliance requirements.


The Single Payment Scheme (SPS) - part of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) - is the EU’s main agricultural subsidy scheme.

If you are a farmer in England who meets the SPS rules, you can apply to the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) for SPS payments. These payments are not linked to production, giving you flexibility in how you run your business.

This guide gives an overview of the scheme and explains how to apply for payment. It covers the Cross Compliance requirements, including farmers’ obligations to keep land in good agricultural and environmental condition.

This guide also explains how deductions from SPS payments - known as ‘modulation’ - help fund rural development schemes for farmers, such as England’s Environmental Stewardship schemes.

What is the SPS?

The SPS is the main agricultural subsidy scheme in the EU.

The scheme requires you to adhere to Cross Compliance requirements in order to receive the payments in full. These requirements reflect existing English and European law, or basic good agricultural practice.

In England, the SPS is run by the RPA, while the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) takes the lead on SPS policy issues.

Each part of the UK has different SPS arrangements. This guide covers England only. For information about the SPS in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, you should contact the relevant agriculture department.

How does the SPS work?

To be eligible for SPS payments, you must:

  • be a farmer, as defined by the European Union
  • have eligible land at your disposal on the prescribed date in May of the scheme year - this land must be eligible for SPS for the entire calendar year
  • hold payment entitlements
  • meet the minimum claim size

You must also meet the cross compliance rules. You can browse the index to SPS Cross Compliance guidance on the RPA website.

You must also meet the application deadlines set each year.

Eligible land

Eligible land is defined as any area of your holding taken up by arable land and permanent pasture, except for:

  • forested areas
  • areas used for non-agricultural activities

Exceptions do apply to non-agricultural activities which are divided into three categories:

  • A - permitted without restriction, eg walking, bird watching, fishing
  • B - permitted up to a 28 day limit, eg shooting, car boot sales, festivals
  • C - inconsistent with the land being considered as remaining in agricultural use, eg golf course, airstrip, game rearing

Applications and key dates for the SPS

Applications for SPS payments in England are made through the RPA. The deadline for receipt of applications is usually the 15 May of the scheme year.

The EU’s payment window for SPS payments runs from 1 December of the scheme year, to the following 30 June.

You can read frequently asked questions on SPS registration on the RPA website.

Key 2013 dates

  • 2 April - last date for RPA to receive your request to transfer entitlements for it to take effect by 15 May 2013, and in time for the 2013 scheme year.
  • 15 May - the date on which you must have land at your disposal to be eligible for the SPS. It is also the final date for receipt of applications without penalty.
  • 31 May - last date for submitting any amendments arising from RPA’s response to your SPS 2013 application.
  • 9 June - any SPS 2013 applications and/or written amendments received by RPA after this date will be rejected.

SPS Online - how to apply electronically

SPS Online is the RPA’s free web-based service which allows you to submit your SPS application electronically. You can also track the progress of your claim and view claim or entitlements statements issued to you for the 2009 scheme year onwards.

If you are not yet registered for SPS Online, you will need a Personal Identification Number (PIN). You should have received this in late February/early March 2012. If you have not previously applied electronically and need a pin, you should call the RPA Customer Service Centre on Tel 0845 603 7777.

During the 2012 scheme year over 37,000 applications were submitted using the SPS Online Make a Claim service.

SPS Online also enables you to track claims and view statements.

How to make a claim

You can submit your SPS application electronically during each scheme year application period. You can access and amend your SPS data, check your application for common errors and correct them before you submit. It will then provide you with an instant on-screen acknowledgement that the RPA has received your application.

Once the scheme year application period ends you can still access the make a claim service to view claims previously submitted via SPS Online or a farm software package.

How to track claims

This service allows you to see the status of SPS applications you have submitted from the 2009 scheme year onwards. With track claims you can:

  • check the progress of your claim at any time without needing to contact the RPA
  • track the progress of your claim from start to finish regardless of whether you submitted the application electronically (using SPS Online or a farm software package) or on the paper SP5 form
  • find out if you need to submit more information to progress your claim and reply to the RPA electronically

How to view statements

This service allows you to view claim and entitlements statements issued from the 2009 scheme year onwards. With view statements you can:

  • view online a PDF version of all claim and entitlements statements that the RPA have sent to you for the 2009 scheme year onwards
  • save the PDF to another application or print it

If you have used SPS Online or a farm software package to apply for SPS, you will not receive paper applications forms or claim and entitlements statements from RPA in future. These will be available to view online. 

SPS entitlements

Under the SPS, entitlements are used as the basis for subsidy payments. An entitlement gives a farmer the right to a payment, provided it is supported by a hectare of eligible land.

SPS payments are based on entitlements, which were allocated to farmers in 2005. If you do not have any entitlements, or wish to obtain more, you may be able to purchase or lease some from another farmer.

For each entitlement you choose to claim payment on, you must have at least one hectare of eligible land. Your total claim must be at least one hectare. If you hold special entitlements, your claim will only be valid if the value of your claim is at least €200.

Value of entitlements under the SPS

At the start of the scheme in 2005, SPS entitlements were valued on two elements:

  • a flat rate
  • an addition - based on any historic reference amount

Until 2012 the value of entitlements changed from scheme year to scheme year. During this period, the flat rate element gradually increased and the historic element decreased.

Entitlement rates 2005 - 2012

The following tables provide information on the RPA’s SPS flat-rate entitlement values for 2005 to 2012 for the Severely Disadvantaged Areas (SDAs), non-SDAs and SDA moorland. Figures include a reduction factor for historic entitlement, the conversion rate that was applied - from euros to sterling - and, for 2006 onwards, the sugar tonnage rate.

2005 SPS entitlement flat rates

Region Flat rate (10% figure) (Rounded sterling value) Reduction factor for historic entitlement
Non-SDA €28.20 £19.23 0.8578711
SDA €23.59 £16.08 0.8578711
SDA Moorland €3.36 £2.29 0.8578711

The 2005 exchange rate applied was €1 = £0.68195

2006 SPS entitlement flat rates

Region Flat rate (15% figure) (Rounded sterling value) Reduction factor for historic entitlement
Non-SDA €45.92 £31.11 0.9362356601
SDA €38.02 £25.76 0.9372378661
SDA Moorland €6.48 £4.39 0.9217465831

The 2006 exchange rate applied was €1 = £0.67770

The 2006 sugar tonnage rate was €9.710

2007 SPS entitlement flat rates

Region Flat rate (30% figure) (Rounded sterling value) Reduction factor for historic entitlement
Non-SDA €95.13 £66.28 0.8224050932
SDA €76.98 £53.63 0.8217647726
SDA Moorland €13.40 £9.33 0.8188342677

The 2007 exchange rate applied was €1 = £0.69680

The 2007 sugar tonnage rate was €9.50331

2008 SPS entitlement flat rates

Region Flat rate (45% figure) (Rounded sterling value) Reduction factor for historic entitlement
Non-SDA €141.93 £112.17 0.7875675861
SDA €116.21 £91.84 0.7835710360
SDA Moorland €20.53 £16.22 0.7786558592

The 2008 exchange rate applied was €1 = £0.79030

The 2008 sugar tonnage rate was €10.376042

2009 SPS entitlement flat rates

Region Flat rate (60% figure) (Rounded sterling value) Reduction factor for historic entitlement
Non-SDA €190.47 £173.19 0.7234699423
SDA €156.09 £141.93 0.7229429055
SDA Moorland €27.37 £24.89 0.7273821633

The 2009 exchange rate applied was €1 = £0.90930

The 2009 sugar tonnage rate was €10.256098

2010 SPS entitlement flat rates

Region Flat rate (75% figure) (Rounded sterling value) Reduction factor for historic entitlement
Non-SDA €241.14 £207.37 0.6293490704
SDA €194.78 £167.50 0.6266152534
SDA Moorland €34.15 £29.36 0.6266538333

The 2010 exchange rate applied was €1 = £0.85995

The 2010 sugar tonnage rate was €3.526882

2011 SPS entitlement flat rates

Region Flat rate (90% figure) (Rounded sterling value) Reduction factor for historic entitlement
Non-SDA €289.94 £251.28 0.3977943979
SDA €233.95 £202.75 0.3989093934
SDA Moorland €40.82 £35.38 0.4047346028

The 2011 exchange rate applied was €1 = £0.86665

The 2011 sugar tonnage rate was €1.411122

2012 SPS entitlement rates

Region (100% figure) (Rounded sterling value)
Non-SDA €323.91 £258.50
SDA €260.29 £207.72
SDA Moorland €45.47 £36.29

The 2012 exchange rate applied was €1 = £0.79805

Any payments that the RPA makes will be reduced for European and national modulation.

From 2012, the value of all entitlements is based on a flat rate, with a single value being established for all entitlements in each of the three English areas.

Under the SPS, England is divided into three regions:

  • Non-Severely Disadvantaged Area - England outside the upland Severely Disadvantaged Area
  • Severely Disadvantaged Area - English upland SDA other than moorland
  • Severely Disadvantaged Area Moorland - English moorland within the upland SDA

Within each region, there are two types of entitlement - normal and special. Land in a specific region can only be used to support entitlements in that same region.

Types of SPS entitlement

SPS entitlements fall into the following categories:

  • normal entitlement - code NML
  • special entitlement - code SPE

Activating SPS entitlements

Your entitlements can be activated for payment - ie claimed - in each year you apply under the SPS.

To activate all your entitlements, you must have sufficient land at your disposal on 15 May (unless that falls on a weekend). The land must be eligible for the whole calendar year.

Usage rule for SPS entitlements

If you do not claim an entitlement for two years it will be taken away from you and put into the National Reserve - except in exceptional circumstances.

You can rotate entitlements to make sure they are used at least once in any two-year period but can only use them in the area of England where they were established.

SPS entitlements subject to special conditions

If you had no eligible land, or entitlements over a certain value in 2005, then you were able to apply for entitlements subject to special conditions. These conditions related to the number of livestock on a holding in the year of claim.

To activate special entitlements for payment, a farmer must maintain at least 50 per cent of the level of agricultural activity, expressed in Livestock Units kept during the reference period.

Conversion of special SPS entitlements into normal SPS entitlements

Special entitlements will be permanently converted into normal entitlements if:

  • you do not confirm on the application form that you wish your entitlements to retain their special status
  • when completing your field data sheet, you declare more eligible land for the activation of entitlements than is needed to activate your normal entitlements
  • you transfer out special entitlements

The number of Livestock Units needed to activate any remaining special entitlements for payments will be reduced pro rata to take account of the conversion.

The SPS entitlements statement

The entitlement statement for the SPS shows the number of English entitlements that you held on the application deadline date for a specific scheme year. The statement also shows the new value in euros of each entitlement but does not show any entitlements transferred in or out.

It is recommended that you keep your entitlements statement for your records and refer to it when you complete subsequent SPS application forms.

You can find further guidance on SPS entitlements from the RPA website.

Transfer of entitlements under the SPS

Farmers can transfer SPS entitlements at any time of the year. Since 1 January 2009, there is no longer a requirement for the transferor - the person making a transfer - to be a farmer.

Entitlement transfers can be made:

  • by sale or gift - with or without land 
  • by lease with land 
  • through inheritance 
  • through merger or scission - ie splitting - of a business

How to transfer SPS entitlements

To transfer SPS entitlements, you must complete and return an RLE 1 application form. You can request this form by calling the RPA Helpline on Tel 0845 603 7777. Alternatively you can print out a form from the [RPA website] (

You should use the RLE 1 form to:

  • transfer entitlements - with or without land
  • transfer entitlements by lease with land 
  • surrender entitlements 
  • transfer land and/or make a permanent boundary change

To request the right amount of RLE 1 forms you will need the following information:

  • Single Business Identifier (SBI) 
  • primary business address 
  • the reason you are requesting the RLE 1 form 
  • the number of businesses to which you are transferring entitlements 
  • the number of land parcels you wish to transfer

Usually, the RLE 1 form will already contain as much detail as possible relevant to your specific transfer. Where it is not possible to send you a pre-populated RLE 1, a blank form will be issued.

You must notify the RPA at least six weeks before a transfer of entitlements is due to take place. If you fail to do this, the transfer will take effect six weeks from the date that RPA receives the form.

Protecting the environment with Cross Compliance

In order to receive the full SPS payment - and certain Rural Development scheme payments - you must comply with a set of Statutory Management Requirements. These relate to areas of public, animal and plant health, environment and animal welfare. You must also demonstrate that you are keeping your land in good agricultural and environmental condition. This is known as ‘Cross Compliance’. All agricultural activities are covered by Cross Compliance and you must comply with the requirements across the whole agricultural area of your holding, regardless of the amount of land you entered into the SPS.

These standards are based on existing European and domestic legal requirements, or basic good agricultural practice that you should already be following.

For technical advice and queries you can call the Cross Compliance Helpline on 0845 345 1302.

The Cross Compliance standards also apply to anyone claiming certain Rural Development schemes.

Further advice on Cross Compliance

You can find up-to-date guidance for farmers on the RPA website.

You must also complete an annual template for Cross Compliance soil protection purposes. You can complete your Soil Protection Review 2012 template manually or electronically.

How the SPS helps fund rural development

‘Modulation’ is a levy on CAP direct payments - in England this is the SPS - to support rural development, such as the agri-environment schemes. There are two types of modulation levy - European and national.

Modulation levy rates

Rates of modulation are set at EU and national levels, as a percentage of direct payments made to farmers. In England, total modulation, including EU and national modulation, is 19 per cent. EU modulation deductions do not apply to the first €5,000 of direct payments. This exemption does not apply to national modulation.

Some of the proceeds from EU modulation are shared out among the original 15 EU member states, but most of the funds are kept within the originating member state. All the proceeds from national modulation are kept by the originating member state.
Separate arrangements for national modulation apply in the devolved administrations of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Benefits to businesses

In England, modulation payments help pay for the Rural Development Programme for England. This includes the Entry Level Stewardship agri-environment scheme, for which all farmers are eligible to apply and which is designed to deliver environmental benefits over and above Cross Compliance requirements.

Modulation attracts matched funding from the Defra budget.

Other funding for farmers

As well as the SPS, there are other types of support available through the EU Common Agricultural Policy.

If you receive SPS payments or certain other Rural Development Scheme payments, you must meet Cross Compliance requirements. These requirements apply across all farming activities.

For detailed information see Cross Compliance: an overview.

The Rural Development Programme for England (RDPE)

The Defra, Natural England and the Forestry Commission are responsible for awarding funding from the RDPE. Defra manages the RDPE socio-economic elements (Axis 1 and 3 and the management of the Axis 4 Leader approach).

Find out about the Rural Development Programme for England

Read about grants and funding on the Natural England website..

Read about timber industry and woodland grants and funding on the Forestry Commission website.

Also available is the English Woodland Grant Scheme (EWGS). Download a guide to the English Woodland Grant Scheme from the Forestry Commission website (PDF, 526KB).

The Natural England Energy Crops Scheme

The Energy Crops Scheme run by Natural England continues to offer grants to farmers to establish miscanthus and short rotation coppice in certain parts of England. You can find details and application forms for the Energy Crops Scheme on the Natural England website.

Financial help is also available to exporters of certain crops. For more information, see Agriculture, horticulture and fisheries: import and export.

Further information

Cross Compliance Helpline

0845 345 1302

Natural England Enquiry Service

0845 600 3078

Defra Helpline

08459 33 55 77

RPA Helpline

0845 603 7777

EWGS Hotline

01223 346 004

RPA SPS Helpline

0845 603 7777

SPS Online

Request a new PIN on the RPA website

SPS Online and farm software packages guidance on the RPA Website

Index to SPS Cross Compliance guidance on the RPA website

Key Soil Protection Review (SPR) (GAEC 1) measures on the RPA website

Download SP19 on understanding your SPS entitlement statement from the RPA website

Download the SPS Handbook for England 2013 from the RPA website

ELS scheme guidance on the Natural England website

Environmental Stewardship scheme information on the Natural England website

Download a guide to the EWGS from the Forestry Commission website (PDF, 526K)

Link to RPA complaints and appeals guidance

European Union and England Legislation relating to the Single Payment Scheme (PDF, 103KB, 4 pages)

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