This policy relates to all Business Grant schemes introduced since March 2020.
1.1 In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the government has announced several financial assistance schemes to support businesses in their local area under Local Covid Alert Level Very High (LCAL3) or national restrictions.
1.2 The government is not changing the legislation relating to the reliefs available to properties. Instead the government will, in line with the eligibility criteria set out in the Government Guidance for Local Authorities documents, reimburse local authorities that use their discretionary relief powers under section 47 of the Local Government Finance Act 1988 (as amended), to grant relief.
1.3 It will be for individual local billing authorities to adopt a local scheme and determine in each individual case when, having regard to this guidance, to grant relief under section 47. This policy sets out the administration and eligibility requirements for businesses who wish to claim a relief or Business Grant within the area Huntingdonshire District Council area.
1.4 Businesses in our area have been affected according to the Tier level imposed at various times, and also by the National Lockdowns, commencing March 2020, November 2020, and January 2021.
1.5 For each Tier, and each separate National Lockdown, the government has issued both guidance to the general public, and specific Government Guidance for Local Authority documents.
1.6 Government Guidance for Local Authorities document, together with subsequent Frequently Asked Questions documents (issued by the Department for Business, Energy & Industry Strategy – BEIS), provides a broad list of businesses required to close, or who may remain open, as well as minimal national qualifying criteria being stipulated by the government.
1.7 In March 2020, businesses with a Rateable Value under £15,000 could apply for a Small Business Grant Fund (SBGF).
1.8 In addition, the government expanded the previous Retail Rate Relief scheme available to businesses, so that a larger number of businesses could qualify for a “rates holiday” for 2020/2021 (known as the Expanded Retail Discount - ERD).
1.9 Expanded Retail Discount is also a discretionary award, and Huntingdonshire District Council may use their discretionary powers to decide which businesses receive it, in the same way as they may decide upon the other Business Grant scheme criteria,
1.10 Expanded Retail Discount was also a qualifying criteria in order to receive a Business Grant (known as the Retail, Hospitality and Leisure Grant - RHLG) during the first National Lockdown commencing March 2020.
1.11 Subsequent schemes have had differing criteria but none have required Expanded Retail Discount as a qualifying criteria. These Business Grant schemes have come under the umbrella of Local Restrictions Support Grants – LRSG.
2. Aim of this policy
2.1 This policy sets out the approach that will / has been taken by Huntingdonshire District Council in relation to the various Business Grant schemes, and Expanded Retail Discount. Additional discretionary schemes or one-off payments will have their own policy document, as necessary.
2.2 This policy should be read in conjunction with the Government Guidance for Local Authorities documents, and subsequent Frequently Asked Questions documents published by BEIS throughout 2020/2021.
3. Administration of the Expanded Retail Discount and various Business Grant Schemes since March 2020
3.1 Huntingdonshire District Council is responsible for administering the ERD, RHLG and LRSG funding schemes to eligible businesses within its geographical boundary.
3.2 Under the RHLG and LRSG schemes, the government has allocated a funding allowance to each eligible local authority, according to estimated business needs, when Local Very High or national restrictions are imposed.
3.3 The government has instructed local authorities to collect certain information relating to applicant businesses, and also requires local authorities to make certain checks to identify ineligible or fraudulent applications.
3.4 All local authorities are required to follow this guidance and conduct activity to provide assurance that the grants have been paid out in line with the eligibility conditions for these schemes.
3.5 Businesses that will be supported under the above schemes are those which are identified within the appropriate Government Guidance document relating to the period when each specific scheme was/is in place.
3.6 Eligibility criteria for these schemes are as described within the appropriate Government Guidance document relating to the period when each specific scheme was/is in place.
3.7 The main criteria set out in each of the Government Guidance documents, and adopted by Huntingdonshire District Council, include all of the following for every scheme under this policy. They are as follows:
3.8 The applicant must be the current ratepayer and able to provide their Business Rates reference, which can be found on their latest Business Rates Bill.
3.9 The grant is only available to the current ratepayer and may be liable for recovery if it is later found out that the recipient was not the ratepayer on the eligible day.
3.10 Any changes to the Rating List (Rateable Value or hereditament) after the qualifying date for the particular scheme, will be ignored for the purpose of eligibility or level of financial reward.
3.11 Businesses must have been trading the day before the restrictions came into force to be eligible to receive funding under this scheme. Where businesses were closed due to restrictions that preceded the national restrictions, it is accepted that those businesses are still trading.
3.12 Businesses that have chosen to close, rather than being required to do so, will not be eligible for this grant.
3.13 For the avoidance of doubt, businesses that were in administration, are insolvent or where a striking-off notice has been made, are not eligible for funding under these schemes.
3.14 Businesses will need to notify Huntingdonshire District Council if they no longer meet the eligibility criteria for additional grants at any point in any local restrictions period. For example, if they become insolvent.
3.15 The business must complete an application form when requested to do so and supply accurate information in each field of the application form.
3.16 Businesses will be notified of the decision to pay, or decline, an application as soon as possible. If the business wishes to dispute the decision, they may do so via the district council’s Complaints Procedure.
3.17 At that stage, the district council’s decision will be final, and no further communication will be entered in to.
3.18 The business may ask the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman to decide whether the district council was at fault in the process used to determine the decision, but the actual decision - to accept or decline an application for a Grant or ERD - rests solely with the district council.
4. State aid
4.1 The United Kingdom left the EU on 31 January 2020, nonetheless under the Withdrawal Agreement the State aid rules continue to apply during a transition period, subject to regulation by the EU Commission. Therefore, the council must be satisfied that State aid requirements are met before grants can be paid out to individual applicants.
4.2 Under De Minimis rules an organisation is permitted to receive up to the equivalent of €200,000 of aid within a three-year period.
4.3 Where the threshold of €200,00 has been reached, payments can still be made in line with the COVID-19 Temporary Framework for UK Authorities, which has been introduced to support businesses during the current COVID-19 outbreak. This temporary framework permits an organisation to receive up to the equivalent of €800,000.
4.4 Where an applicant is below but close to that threshold, the grant award will be set at such an amount as to ensure that the applicant does not exceed this threshold.
4.5 As part of the application process, all applicants will be asked to make a legal declaration to confirm that the award of this grant will comply with EU law on State Aid, which requires that they have not received any other state aid that exceeds in total €800,000, under the De Minimis Regulations EC 1407/2013.
5.1 As prescribed for in the guidance provided to Huntingdonshire District Council by the government, grant income received by a business is taxable therefore any grant paid under this scheme will be subject to tax.
5.2 Only businesses which make an overall profit once grant income is included will be subject to tax.
6. Managing the risk of fraud
6.1 Huntingdonshire District Council will not tolerate any acts of fraud in relation to its Business Grant schemes. Any persons found to be submitting a fraudulent claim by, for example, falsifying records, will be reported to the police for criminal investigation and could face prosecution. Robust action will be taken to recover any monies paid in respect of the fraudulent claim.
6.2 The council will undertake comprehensive checks to ensure that grants are paid only in respect of genuine applications.
6.3 The council reserves the right to reclaim any grant that has been paid in error, or as a result of a fraudulent claim.