Nearly one in three business support grant applications could not be completed as insufficient information was given while a handful of people have put in wrong account details slowing down the payment process even more, according to Chief Minister Andrew Barr.
Around 6000 applications had been received and almost $7 million has been paid out to 400 struggling businesses as of Wednesday (8 September).
But 1848 applications require more information to be processed, Mr Barr said.
“We are processing your applications as best as possible. The best thing you can do to help is to read the guidelines and to provide the information,” he told businesses.
“The quicker the information is provided, the quicker it is for the team to assess the application and make the payment to you.”
Business support grants of up to $20,000 are available to Canberra businesses that have experienced a 30 per cent decline in turnover during the lockdown and have an annual turnover greater than $75,000.
Applications opened on 26 August – two weeks after the Territory’s lockdown began – and around 10,000 businesses were expected to be eligible for the scheme. Money from the business support grants is expected to be available within 30 days of the application being lodged but some were processed in under a week, Mr Barr said.
Opposition Leader Elizabeth Lee said the money had not been delivered to businesses fast enough with the ACT approaching a month in lockdown and only having processed 400 applications.
“The fact is this government assured the community for months that they were prepared and ready to deal with a lockdown if and when it happened,” she said.
“The business community we have been speaking to are frustrated and disappointed that the systems they were promised would be in place do not seem to be resulting in payments when they are needed.
“They are concerned about whether they are able to put food on the table next week, whether they can pay the rent and whether they can pay their bills.”
Ms Lee said businesses were calling the application process cumbersome and the fact that a third of applications need more information “starkly demonstrates that”.
“We got feedback from businesses who were told they did not provide the right information, that it was because the guidelines unilaterally changed.
“That reset the clock for their application after the government asked for more information.”
Mr Barr previously defended the time it took to open the scheme and process applications, saying the government needed to ensure that the funds were going to the right people and not to fraudsters.
Yesterday (8 September), Mr Barr said the rollout of the scheme was progressing faster compared to business support measures implemented in NSW, depositing money two to three weeks ahead of the state’s comparable scheme.
“We continue to assess applications each and every day and we are making regular payments as each application is approved.”
A team of more than 100 people are working seven days a week to process the applications.
Mr Barr warned that anyone trying to rort the business support scheme would be caught.
“We are seeing a proportion of applications that do not have active or valid business numbers,” he said.
“We are seeing applicants who are not registered for the GST and we are seeing applications where a quick ASIC search shows their business has either been cancelled, is in external administration or in liquidation.
“Our compliance checks are demonstrating that there is a degree of activity that is not in the spirit of the business support program. I do want to send a clear message to anyone who thinks they can try and scam this system – you cannot, it is being checked.”
But Ms Lee said that while fraud was a genuine issue, there needed to be more of a balance towards getting the money to businesses who needed the cash quicker.
“The fact the Chief Minister has raised some concerns about fraud, whilst a genuine issue, begs the question, what preparation did this government do to ensure that risk was minimised so when they hit go on lockdown, businesses that needed support were able to get it when they needed it?
“There are also concerns about the long-term impact of not getting this right and the long-term ramifications it would have, including to mental health and the loss of skills in different sectors”.
Businesses can apply for the grant through the online ACT Government’s Business hub.
The Canberra Business Advice and Support Service is also available for any local business owners seeking free, specialised advice on their circumstances.
More information on other supports available for businesses can be found at covid19.act.gov.au.