Victorian small business owners still seeking answers after backdated GST locked them out of COVID-19 support

Source: David Crosling / AAP Image

Victorian small business owners rejected from major COVID-19 support grants in 2021 say they are still waiting for answers, while others claim the discovery of Business Victoria call logs resulted in them receiving that grant funding in full.

Jacob Kotaridis, founder of events management firm Modus Operandi, told SmartCompany he is still seeking clarification from Business Victoria and Victorian Small Business Minister Jaala Pulford over his rejection from the Business Cost Assistance Program (BCAP) scheme.

He is one of several business owners still pleading their case to Business Victoria, claiming they should have received BCAP funding.

GST confusion remains

The BCAP was announced in mid-2021 as Delta-era COVID-19 restrictions forced Victorian small businesses to shutter their doors and limit their regular services.

At its peak in late 2021, BCAP offered businesses up to $8,400 a week to offset lost revenue and mounting costs. The program came to an end on October 29 last year.

However, confusion has lingered into halfway through 2022 due to the program’s eligibility criteria and its approach to GST registration.

To access BCAP’s July extension, businesses must have been registered for GST from July 15, 2021.

Kotaridis said Modus Operandi was not registered for GST when the grant was announced. However, he was advised by his tax agent to apply for GST registration and backdate it to before July 15, 2021, thereby meeting the BCAP eligibility criteria.

He applied for the support payments on September 9. His claim was not rejected until December 10, 2021, when Business Victoria said he was not registered for GST on July 15.

“Backdated GST registration is not sufficient,” Business Victoria said, in an email viewed by SmartCompany.

With COVID-19 restrictions cutting deep into the events sector, Kotaridis told SmartCompany BCAP grant funding would have greatly assisted his business.

Now, his attempts to understand why Business Victoria rejected his application, despite being registered for GST through the backdating process, have left him disillusioned and contemplating leaving the events sector entirely.

“I’m trying to piece together what happened, but it’s still traumatising,” he says.

Business owners push for Business Victoria call details

Kotaridis says the issue is compounded by claims from other business owners, who say they received BCAP funding after pleading a similar case to Business Victoria.

In one instance, a Victorian business owner claims to have been informed by a Business Victoria representative on a phone call that backdating their GST registration was sufficient to meet BCAP eligibility criteria.

Their application was initially rejected. But after pushing Business Victoria to locate the call recordings, in which Business Victoria representatives allegedly said GST backdating was sufficient, the business owner said their BCAP application was finally approved.

The allegation cuts across a statement from the Victorian Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions, which last year said it had “not found any evidence to suggest agents have been advising applicants to backdate their GST registration”.

Kotaridis says such claims suggest a disparity in how claims are being treated: while small businesses that weren’t directly advised by Business Victoria to backdate their GST are being locked out of BCAP funds, he says businesses that were given this advice are now accruing financial support.

“It’s really fishy, I don’t understand,” says Kotaridis says, who is now considering filing a fresh enquiry with the Victorian Ombudsman to provide more detail.

SmartCompany has contacted the office of Small Business Minister Jaala Pulford for comment.

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