Council grants, government-backed loan schemes and furlough payments are failing to reach retailers that have applied for aid to help them stay afloat in the coronavirus crisis.
Banks have lent more than £1.1bn to small and medium-sized businesses through the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme, UK Finance, the body that represents financial institutions, has reported.
However, only 6,020 loans have been made out of 28,461 applications so far, and retailers have criticised the process as too slow.
One independent retailer told Drapers: “We have applied for a business support loan through our bank but are waiting to hear if we have been successful.
“As part of the process, the bank has made us do a complete financial business review, which is costing us a significant sum of money. It includes forecasting three years ahead to check if we are a viable business going forward.
“The whole process has been taken us three weeks to gather the data together and we still don’t know if we will be successful. [The process] seems to be stacked against those who need the cashflow.”
Another independent retailer said: “We did mail our bank regarding a loan, but there were so many hoops to jump through we didn’t bother.
“I have also applied for the grant but we’re still waiting to hear back.”
Andrew Goodacre, CEO of BIRA (the British Independent Retailers Association), said: “With regards to the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loans, it seems that banks are blaming the [government-owned small business development lender] British Business Bank. The British Business Bank is blaming the high street banks. Both are blaming the government. With this blame game going on there is little chance of the [small retail businesses] who need the help actually getting it.
“The processes need streamlining and simplifying. There is evidence that some decisions have been made quickly and they should provide the template for all decisions.
“[Local authorities] are not slow [when] taking payments. They have the rateable value, names, addresses and the bank account details. I see no reason why a reverse payment into the bank accounts could not be made in a great number of cases.
“Instead, we have some online application forms, some with depleted call centres, some taking at least three weeks to pay even after a form is filled in. They have had weeks to think about this and the lack of proactivity is disappointing.”
One independent retailer said: “We haven’t seen anything yet, apart from the business rate relief.”
It was announced this week that the government’s online portal for employers to make claims for furloughed staff will not be ready until at least the first week of May, instead of 20 April as promised.
Ravi Grewal, co-owner of menswear independent Stuarts London, said: “The furlough support has not come through yet. We’ve put applications in. We’ve had support on rates for our commercial properties and we’re not leaning on the loan scheme. We’re still operational online, so we’re OK at the moment.
“The support is very welcome and helpful. For all the people who are unable to work and are furloughed, it helps give them confidence that they still have a job to come back to. We’re yet to see it, but it’s going to help us in the long run.”
A government spokesman said: “We recognise that this is a very worrying time for retailers and workers and we stand ready to support them. The government has put together a comprehensive package for businesses to help them through the coronavirus pandemic including grants, loans and rates relief for retailers.”