‘We fell through the cracks’ - Charity ineligible for lifeline business grants may benefit from new fund
PUBLISHED: 13:47 27 May 2020 | UPDATED: 15:48 27 May 2020
Matthew Usher/Mick Kenmore
A community centre ineligible for business interruption grants may benefit from a new coronavirus top-up fund for those who initially fell through the cracks.
The Merle Boddy Centre in Swaffham has a huge presence in the community through its charitable day care provision for vulnerable clients dealing with mental health difficulties.
But according to Ian Pilcher, Swaffham town councillor and one of the company directors, they are “essentially a business”.
He said: “While we raise money through donations and Norfolk County Council social care fees, we also rely on retail and private clients.
“For this reason, we were sure we would receive a business Regeneration Grant of £10,000 under the government’s scheme and I was astonished that we didn’t.”
While Mr Pilcher said he understood that council officers could not give them money if they were not entitled, he expressed frustration that “nobody got in touch to suggest why we couldn’t receive the grant or what support was available instead”.
He said: “It seems bizarre that the government’s scheme gave £10,000 to hairdressers and cafe owners but not to us.
“It feels like we’ve fallen through the cracks, and are now running down our hard-earned deposits to meet the remaining 20pc of furloughed employee wages and our general running costs while the centre is closed.”
He added: “Norfolk County Council have been fantastic in committing to paying the client fees they would have if our centre was open, but this represents just 1/3 of our income. The other 2/3s have dried up.”
But in a statement, Breckland Council said: “We can confirm that registered charities who are already claiming charity business rates relief are unfortunately not eligible under the current rules of the UK government scheme.
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“Only organisations that are liable for business rates and claiming small business rate relief are currently eligible for a small business grant of £10,000, or sectoral grants of up to £25,000 (for retail, hospitality or leisure), to help businesses with their ongoing costs in recognition of the disruption caused by Covid-19.”
They added: “To date, we have engaged with 3,000 Breckland businesses, offering advice and a total of 2,279 grants of between £10,000 to £25,000, resulting in over £24 million of funding being distributed.
“For organisations that have not met the government’s current eligibility criteria, we continue to work hard to provide support and signposting to alternative funding streams that could be sourced through other related, or future schemes.”
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According to Ed Colman, borough and county councillor, this funding will take the shape of a new “Local Authority Discretionary Grant Fund” which could provide support for community groups and small market traders who do not pay their own business rates.
He said: “We have a series of discretionary grants coming out within the next few weeks that could help community groups and market traders.
“On a personal level, I’ve been contacted by half a dozen small traders and charities who have fallen through the cracks because they didn’t pay business rates.
“Breckland Regeneration Team, who are dealing with these grants, have done a huge amount of work - and will be following up with those people now that we have something positive and concrete to tell them.
“I had to be honest with the Merle Boddy Centre, which is in a unique position as one of the larger charities in the district, that if they did not meet the criteria there was no way round this.
“We couldn’t give them a rent holiday as whatever we do for one charity we’d have to do for all. There’s no way of Breckland Council recovering that money.
“We gave as much sign posting as we could and did continue to offer placement fees as a county council.
“This wasn’t as much as their directors would have wanted, but hopefully they will receive some government support sooner rather than later.”
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