At the height of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, the government announced that small businesses would be entitled to substantial grants as a result of being forced to close.

Depending on the rateable value of a property, each is entitled to either a £10,000 or £25,000 grant under the Small Business Grant Fund or the Retail, Hospitality and Leisure Grant Fund.

Guidance was issued by the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (“BEIS”) on the eligibility criteria for the grants. Although the funds are provided by central government – some £12 billion – local authorities have been responsible for assessing each business application according to the guidance and criteria set by BEIS. 

As at 14 August 2020, £1.5 billion remains unclaimed. Some businesses are simply unaware of their entitlement to the grants whilst others have misunderstood the scheme as a loan. However, there is increasing evidence of local authorities applying the government’s eligibility criteria in an overly prescriptive manner. Some companies have been denied the grant because of mere technicalities such as lease agreements not being in the company’s name.

Kawsar Zaman has been advising such businesses across the country – as the only expert focusing on appealing and overturning these decisions. It is apparent that some local authority officers do not fully appreciate that where there is a policy or criteria in place, there must be scope for discretion. Mr Zaman has represented businesses in the appeal process drafting representations and pre-action protocol letters for judicial review where a local authority has resisted unfairly.

Currently, the only recourse open to a business where their application has been refused is to seek a judicial review of the decision. This is time-consuming and costly, with the inherent risks associated with any litigation. Mr Zaman is calling on the government to establish an independent appeal process for such disputes short of judicial review.

Mr Zaman was interviewed by the BBC: