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Around half of English councils hand out cash from £1.5bn pandemic fund

The Government announced a £1.5 billion business rates relief fund in March 2021 (PA)
The Government announced a £1.5 billion business rates relief fund in March 2021 (PA)

Just over half of councils in England have started making payments to Covid-hit firms from a £1.5 billion support package, almost 18 months after it was first launched.

Real estate experts have said it is “too little too late” and could mean thousands of companies miss out on almost £700 million of available funding.

In March 2021, the Government said that businesses affected by Covid-19 outside the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors, and therefore ineligible for the pandemic business rates holiday, would not be able to appeal their payments for the property tax.

However, it announced a £1.5 billion business rates relief fund for these companies, which include office operators and property firms.

Rishi Sunak, the chancellor at the time, gave councils the responsibility to hand out the cash to businesses which applied to the Covid-19 Additional Relief Fund (Carf).

Nevertheless, the results of Freedom of Information requests by property consultancy Gerald Eve have found that hundreds of millions of pounds remain unpaid despite less than two months being left before the scheme’s deadline.

The FOI requests to 309 councils in England resulted in 207 responses.

Slightly over half, 119 councils, said they started making any payments to businesses.

Responding councils which have started making payments account for £632m of the £1.5 billion funding package but have collectively paid out just £329m.

Gerald Eve said that if this trend was extrapolated across England’s remaining councils, a maximum of £820 million from the total £1.5 billion available would have been paid out.

Jerry Schurder, business rates policy lead at Gerald Eve, said: “This fund was supposed to help businesses negatively impacted by the pandemic, but which were denied other business rates support.

“The Government claimed Carf was the fastest and fairest way of getting support to businesses that need it the most, but the past 17 months has shown this to be complete hyperbole.

“In fact, the opposite is true.

“Sadly, it’s a case of too little, too late for the hundreds of thousands of firms that were retrospectively denied their rights to appeal their rates bills but have yet to receive a penny from the local authorities.”

A Government spokesperson said: “The Government has provided an unprecedented package of support for businesses, including a total of £26 billion in grants to those affected by restrictions put in place to tackle Covid-19.

“Councils are responsible for allocating funding and targeting it to businesses, based on local circumstances.”