SOME local businesses "were trying it on" in order to get Covid business grants - a committee has been told.

Bradford Council's Corporate Scrutiny Committee were recently given an update on the collection of Business Rates in the District.

The Covid pandemic has seen a huge drop in the total rates collected.

However, a report to the committee shows that the level of outstanding business rate debt for the 2019/20 financial year was over £1 million higher than expected.

At the meeting members heard this increase was partly due to a “significant” numbers of businesses that registered for business rates for the first time in March/April, and saw their rates back-dated to when they first began trading.

Businesses registered at this time to make the most of Government grants to help businesses impacted by Covid. A condition of these grants was that they would only be paid to businesses that operated on or before March 11, and were registered as paying business rates.

Martin Stubbs, assistant director of finance at the Council, said: "It really caught us by surprise the number of businesses appearing and telling us they were rate payers that we didn't have on our records.

"The problem was we had to differentiate between genuine businesses and those that were trying it on just to get the grant.

"We are still dealing with queries. We think there were a significant number of genuine cases."

'Previously unknown' Bradford businesses registered for business rates to access Covid support grants

He said another issue was that the Council did not have up to date information for many smaller business in the District.

Many businesses were already offered rate relief by the Council long before the pandemic, and hadn't paid rates for years.

Because of this, the authority did not have the most up to date details of these businesses on their records in March when the Covid relief grants were announced.

Mr Stubbs said: "Records were not up to date - that was the situation we faced. They were probably the right decisions at the time, but maybe wasn't the right decision because of what happened in March."

He told members that the Council has adopted a more relaxed approach to collecting business rates during the pandemic. Normally Councils would begin legal action if businesses did not pay their business rates.

He said: "We haven't taken any significant enforcement action. We didn't want to do anything at a time when most businesses were struggling. We haven't taken any court action over businesses not paying rates."

Committee members asked how potentially false claims were being dealt with.

Jagdeep Kang said: "We are challenging them in terms of providing evidence of when they were in occupation and why they didn't tell us when this started.

"Businesses had to be occupying the building and trading before March 11. If there was no evidence of this, they couldn't have the grant."

Another issue, she said, were multiple businesses operating from a single building.

Under Government guidelines, the grants only go to the person who pays business rates. If multiple businesses operate out of one building and the building's owner pays the business rates for the building, there is legally no way to force the rate payer to share the grant with the other businesses.

Because of this, a number of existing businesses operating out of such buildings had applied to pay individual rates for the first time in order to obtain a grant.