Hospitality businesses struggling to access restart grants despite outdoor opening

14 April 2021 by
Hospitality businesses struggling to access restart grants despite outdoor opening

Many hospitality businesses in England are struggling to access restart grants, despite some reopening for outdoor service this week.

The funds, worth up to £18,000 for some sites, were distributed to councils from 1 April but multiple operators told The Caterer they have yet to receive payment.

This is despite the government issuing guidance to councils in March and MPs writing to local authorities earlier this month urging them to pay out grants "as quickly as possible".

Some hospitality owners told The Caterer their councils were still processing previous grants while others had said they were waiting on information from the government.

Fanny Stocker, co-founder of Sam's Riverside restaurant in Hammersmith, said: "It seems as though [the council] simply don't have the infrastructure to deal with new grants in a swift manner."

One operator with multiple sites across London said his experience had differed in each borough, with some requiring new forms and proof of trade for each grant. "[It's] just an incredible exercise in paper pushing," he said.

Jane Wood, owner of Oliver's Coffee House in Sherborne, told The Caterer her business was eligible for a £12,000 grant but had yet to receive payment, despite reopening for outdoor service on 12 April.

She said: "I've spent money on furniture and getting extra staff in. Presumably the point of it was that we would have it in time to restart, but we're back open now and still waiting.

"The furlough scheme means I have to pay staff first before I get the money back. It would be nice to know for definite when that money's coming. We shouldn't have to be chasing the council for information."

Wood added that Dorset Council had been quick at paying out in the past and she was "hugely grateful" for the grants, but needed clarity on when the payment would come.

Local authorities faced similar criticism over slow distribution of previous Covid support grants, with hospitality owners describing the process as a "total farce" and "painful".

Dorset Council told The Caterer that as the restart grants were a new scheme they were required by government to undertake "strict pre-payment checks" with each business.

A spokesperson said: "We appreciate this is very frustrating for businesses. However, rather than start a whole new application process, which we understand some councils are doing, we are analysing the previous information provided by the businesses. By using this existing information, as soon as we have undertaken the pre-payment checks we will be able to process the payments quickly, rather than require businesses to start a new application which would add considerable delay."

Operators who do not pay business rates have been able to apply for separate discretionary funds over the past year, such as latest Additional Restrictions Grant. It is understood there have been similar issues with councils taking too long to open applications or process payment.

A spokesperson for the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, said: "We have made extraordinary efforts to stand by small business owners as part of a £352b support package including offering hospitality businesses brand new restart grants worth up to £18,000.

"We have written to the leaders of 314 councils in England urging them to do all they can to pay out grants money more quickly and ensure businesses in their local authority area get the support they need."

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