Many small hospitality businesses in England fear they are falling through the cracks of government support due to difficulty in accessing grants.
Operators such as market traders have told The Caterer they have missed out on funding despite seeing footfall disappear over the past year.
As hospitality begins to reopen Restart Grants of up to £18,000 are available to venues that pay business rates. However, non-rate payers must apply for discretionary funds that are determined by local councils, such as the Additional Restrictions Grant (ARG).
This is despite small businesses facing similar reopening costs, such as hiring extra staff and securing stock.
Mathew Carver, who runs the Cheese Bar restaurant in Camden Stables Market, and Pick and Cheese at Seven Dials Market, told The Caterer he had been unable to secure any discretionary grants since lockdown began in 2020.
"It's such an ordeal to apply and there's no guarantee you're going to get them – it's up to the council," said Carver.
"So many traders in Camden Market have been trying to get grants since the start of lockdown and have struggled. Market traders fall in-between the gaps. We're not direct rate payers as our landlords incorporate it as part of our rent, which makes it harder for us to secure those grants."
The Caterer has also heard cases of pubs struggling to access grants if they are part of larger pub companies that pay their rates.
Andrew Metcalfe, co-owner of Downham Hall in Essex, converted the formerly residential property into a B&B, restaurant and wedding and events venue, but said it has grown since its business rates assessment and therefore missed out on larger grants.
"You've got to be within a certain window to get support," he said. "We've survived because of the loan scheme, but at the end of the day they are loans. We're now open outside and a viable business, but are behind where we need to be."
Elizabeth Haigh, chef and owner of Mei Mei restaurant in London's Borough Market, said she was grateful to have received some discretionary grants but described the process as difficult to manage.
She said: "It was difficult not knowing if we would qualify or if I could factor it in to us being operational. It's hard to run any business on it."
"For furlough you need the cash to pay the staff [before claiming it back] and the grant money wouldn't come in until two weeks later."
Haigh added that the hospitality industry, particularly smaller businesses, needed more financial help.
"We're the industry that seems to be punished the longest," she said. "I feel like there should be more support, especially for small independent businesses rather than bigger groups who seem to have investors with deep pockets."
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