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Hundreds of businesses may have missed out on coronavirus grants

But the Town Hall says it has paid out nearly 90 percent of cash

12 May, 2020 — By Richard Osley

Conservative councillor Oliver Cooper says Camden should send out cheques to businesses automatically

HUNDREDS of businesses struggling amid the coronavirus crisis may be missing out on quibble-free government grants because they have not realised they are entitled to them.

Conservative councillor Oliver Cooper, the leader of the opposition at the Town Hall, last night (Monday) went as far as suggesting that cheques should be sent directly to qualifying businesses who had not claimed their cash so far.

He told Camden’s new Covid-19 Oversight Committee, a cross-party panel reviewing the council’s response to the emergency: “It seems a lot of businesses I’ve spoken to do not realise that the money already has their name on it, there’s not an arduous process or application vetting process to go through. They just have to say give us our money.”

The government stumped up  support grants at the start of the crisis and as the country was sent into lockdown – payments of £10,000 for smaller businesses and £25,000 for larger ones – but it asked councils to forward the money on.

Camden has already paid out £60 million to small, independent businesses but, by its own figures, believes around 700 businesses may still not have claimed their entitlement.

Cllr Cooper suggested the number missing out was closer to 2,000.

“Several councils – I think the majority of councils – have sent that 20th or 19th century technology of cheques to the known correspondence addresses of businesses that are left to claim. And, of course, cancelled any cheques that haven’t been cashed within two weeks,” he said.

“Camden hasn’t hitherto done that and the consequence is that the remaining 1,000 or 2,000 businesses that are due for government support haven’t yet received it or have been out of reach.”

But Jon Rowney, the Town Hall’s director of corporate services, said there were fraud worries about sending cheques to businesses by the post without hearing from them first.

“What I can say today is that we’ve processed 87 percent of the initial grant we received, so well over £61 million,” he told the meeting. “It’s been harder to identify those smaller businesses than the larger ones. For the larger businesses, I think we were No. 1 in the country for dispensing those £25,000 grants.”

Mr Rowney added: “In terms of those companies who are eligible but have not contacted us. It’s about 700, so well below the thousands, and we are continuing to make every effort to contact them. This week our inspectors will be visiting these premises in person, obviously observing social distances.”

He added: “In terms of the cheques, I think there is a risk that we do leave ourselves overexposed to fraud and we often find that some contact details in terms of business owners etc etc are out of date. Therefore, if we were to issue a blanket approach to cheques, I think we that would leave us rather exposed to the challenge around mistakes and fraud.”

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