Small businesses in NSW can breathe a small sigh of relief with the State Government yesterday confirming the ban on business evictions will be extended.
The moratorium was due to end on August 20 but Premier Gladys Berejiklian has confirmed it will continue as long as lockdown does.
In Victoria, Small Business Minister Jaala Pulford opened the $180 million Small Business COVID Hardship Fund on Thursday to provide small-to-medium sized businesses with $10,000 grants to get through the recent lockdown.
“This hardship fund will provide a cash lifeline to businesses that haven’t been eligible for our recent grants, so they can get through this really challenging time,” she said.
Speaking to Ben Fordham on 2GB radio, the NSW Premier said the NSW Government would “absolutely” be extending support for small businesses and the business eviction moratorium until the end of lockdown.
“That’s pretty much the case… That’s a part of the agreement that we’ve been working towards,” she told Mr Fordham on Thursday morning.
Mr Fordham also revealed that the NSW Government was set to announce a new package focused on small business rent relief.
He said it is likely to include mandatory rent reductions based on a percentage of lost sales as well as help for landlords.
Giving small businesses the support they need
But Mr Fordham also pushed the premier on when small businesses that had already applied for existing support, such as the COVID-19 business grants, would receive their money.
Playing the monotone hold music that small business owners listen to when they call Service NSW Mr Fordham said:
“Small businesses are being forced to close, as you know and after seven weeks, this is what they’re still hearing. They’re still on hold, they’re still waiting. They haven’t received any money,” Mr Fordham said.
“This is the overwhelming majority of people who deserve to get some money but haven’t got any. People are spending hours on hold, sometimes they get cut off. They don’t have the money they need after seven long weeks.”
Ms Berejiklian apologised for the backlog in processing existing small businesses support claims and promised it would be rectified soon.
“Hopefully by the end of tomorrow or next week, the backlog will be cleared and people won’t have to wait as long,” she said.
“I apologise to anybody who has been stressing out.”
Mr Fordham also noted the Services NSW website had “crashed again” on Wednesday.
“I apologise profusely for any delays that anybody has experienced. I received a detailed update yesterday on the systems updates that are taking place,” Ms Berejiklian said.
“While I know its little consolation, the wait time is now down to 18 minutes on average. It was much larger, longer in the weeks preceding.
“The systems have been upgraded and I’ve been advised that by the end of next week, all the backlog will be cleared.”
Premier Berejiklian explained while “90 per cent of applications are pretty straight forward, 10 per cent require a bit more time and detail”.
“So we’re keen to make sure that 10 per cent isn’t clogging up the 90 per cent that are very easy to process, so the system has been updated to make sure it can cope with that,” she said.
“Please know that you’ll get every cent that’s deserved and needed during this whole time of the lockdown. Please have the confidence that all eligible businesses will get every cent that they deserve.”
Ms Berejiklian went on to explain that “more than $1 billion” had been provided by the NSW Government so far.
“I know that’s little consolation for those who are still waiting but we have put quite a bit of money out the door already but I know there’s others still waiting.”
Small businesses turn to community support
Nonprofit Adopt-a-Shop charity founder Margaret Lomas has been singlehandedly finding benefactors for struggling small businesses across Australia, with many being NSW businesses that had not yet received government support.
The charity has ‘saved’ 19 businesses with $60,000 of benefactor support.
Ms Lomas said it was “imperative the ban on business evictions be extended”.
“The biggest impost the businesses who need help have is their rent, often very large sums, and they are scared that they will be forced to close completely,” Ms Lomas told Elite Agent.
“Adopt-a-Shop supports and encourages more of this sort of assistance, and urges the state and federal governments to raise the stakes and get more real financial support out to these struggling businesses.”
Future tenancy relief
Mr Fordham said future NSW rent relief packages were likely to look very similar to the recent Victorian Commercial Tenancy Relief Scheme, which provides rent relief to tenants who can show at least a 30 per cent drop in turnover.
However, the Real Estate Institute of Victoria (REIV) Chief Executive Officer Gil King told Premier Dan Andrews in an open letter that this would be detrimental to landlords.
“Without proportionate support, it will herald financial ruin for the property owners,” Mr King wrote.
“Many of these people are self-funded retirees who have watched their sole sources of income diminish considerably.
“The fact remains that many tenants will not be required to repay waived rents and a number of others are unlikely to have the capacity to repay any deferred rents in the near term, or if ever. Both tenants and owners must be supported.”
Help for Victorian small businesses
The new Small Business COVID Hardship Fund is designed to help Victorian businesses that are legally allowed to operate but are precluded from generating revenue due to restrictions.
An example of this would be a food store in a retail section of a shopping centre or a manufacturer suppling goods for a venue that is closed.
It also includes businesses that have a significantly lower customer base as a result of restrictions, such as a chemist in the CBD.
To be eligible, businesses must have a reduction in revenue of at least 70 per cent as a result of restrictions from May to August and be able to provide evidence of that drop for at least two consecutive weeks since 27 May when compared to a period when there were no restrictions.
Businesses can compare their best two-week period between 27 May and 10 September 2019 with their worst two-week period between 27 May and 10 September 2021.
“We’ve stood with our small and medium-sized businesses since the beginning of the pandemic and we will continue to listen and act as circumstances change,” Ms Pulford said.