Just 25% of cash earmarked for £20m Brexit Support Fund applied for

The government's £20m scheme to help small businesses get through Brexit paperwork appears to be a damp squib as SMEs are put off by complicated application process

Less than 25 per cent of the £20m Brexit Support Fund promised to help small business get through Brexit transition has been applied for.

Actual applications for the Brexit Support Fund have fallen far short of initial interest and the scheme due to end in weeks before July.

HM Revenue & Customs has only received fewer than 3,000 applications for the £2,000 grants since March, totaling £4.3m. HMRC had been expecting around 10,000 applications.

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According to the Times, businesses are being asked to jump through too many red tape hoops when applying for the Brexit grant.

Michael Gove, the Cabinet Office minister, launched the Brexit Support Fund in March, accepting that businesses needed support to “adjust” to the new import controls, which will be fully introduced on July 1.

The Institute of Export and International Trade, which is providing training under the scheme, said that demand from businesses for support with overseas trading remained strong.

A spokesman put the lower than expected take-up of the scheme, which is open to applications until the end of this month, to the complexity of the process, which is being administered by accountants PwC.

“It has not been as clear and as quick as people had hoped. We are not seeing take-up on the level we would anticipate, given the interest,” the institute told the newspaper.

The British Chambers of Commerce called on HMRC to “relax” the entry requirements and “double the funding available” to the scheme, which is administered by accountants PwC.

Liam Smyth, its director of trade facilitation, told the Times: “Applications for the scheme were initially high but the numbers fell when it became clear how many hoops businesses would need to jump through. Business owners and directors found themselves struggling with the system, all for only £2,000, and many decided it was simply too difficult.”

What is the Brexit Support Fund?

The scheme is designed to support small and medium-sized businesses to adjust to the new customs, rules of origin and VAT rules when trading with the EU.

What can I use the SME Brexit Support Fund for?

Recipients can use the grant for training on:

  • How to complete customs declarations
  • How to manage customs processes and use customs software
  • Specific import and export-related aspects including excise, VAT and rules of origin

It can also be used to get professional advice so your business can meet its customs, excise and income VAT requirements or your safety and security obligations.

Will I able to apply?

To be eligible to apply, your business must:

  • Be established in the UK
  • Have been established in the UK for at least 12 months before starting the application, or you currently hold Authorised Economic Operator status
  • Not have previously failed to meet tax or customs obligations
  • Have no more than 500 employees
  • Have no more than £1m turnover
  • Import or export goods between UK and EU or move goods between Britain and Northern Ireland

In addition, your business must also either:

  • Complete (or intend to complete) import or export declarations internally for own goods
  • Use someone else to complete import or export declarations but needs additional capability internally to effectively import or export (such as advice or rules of origin or advice on managing supply chain)

How do I apply for the SME Brexit Support Fund?

Pricewaterhouse Cooper (PwC) is administering the grant, which will close on June 30 2021. It may close earlier if allocated funding is distributed before this date.

Apply for the grant here.

For further support, businesses can use the dedicated HMRC import and export enquiry service by calling 0300 322 9434.

The Brexit Checker Tool on GOV.UK also gives businesses a personalised list of actions that they need to take.

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Tim Adler

Tim Adler is group editor of Small Business, Growth Business and Information Age. He is a former commissioning editor at the Daily Telegraph, who has written for the Financial Times, The Times and the...