Filling the cash gap crisis

Owners of Osteria il Coccia, Alexandria and Nico Coccia

Small and micro-business owners are buckling as lockdown drags on but crisis payments promised by the State Government to fill the gap are either unattainable or not getting through.

Financial support has been offered by the NSW Government but there have been widespread reports that the money hasn’t found its way into any accounts.

The Italian Sandwich Company at Umina Beach is one local business struggling with the impact of the lockdown.

The local trattoria bases its business on customers coming in to sit down, have a coffee and relax so store owner, Fabien Marian, is finding it a real challenge.

“There’s definitely been a downturn in people coming into the shop,” Marian said.

“Ninety per cent of my business prior to the lockdown was people coming in to sit and now they can’t do that – when you take that away, it’s a massive impact.

“I’ve now reduced staff down to one person, we’ve adapted by doing a lot of the night menu, fresh pastas, as a takeaway option.”

Marian said he has tried to apply for a range of the financial support packages but has found he is ineligible due to only opening the business less than a year ago.

“They are asking for tax returns from 2019 and I’ve only been open less than a year so I can’t provide that information to start with,” he added.

“It makes it really difficult as I can only provide what I’ve done in the last six months.

“It’s an added cost for me so I have to lodge my tax return to show what I’m doing but I’m still not guaranteed to get that assistance and I know that it’s not just me in this situation.

“There is a massive gap there with the government in terms of them wanting people to do the right thing, and people not having the support to be able to do that.

“It should be made a lot easier for people to keep their businesses afloat – I’m not here to make a profit during this time, I’m here to put food on the table and survive.”

Owner of Ettalong Beach-based Osteria il Coccia, Alexandria Coccia, said their family business continues to suffer during the lockdown.

“We had to turn down a full Saturday night in [a] few hours into a takeaway version when lockdown was announced,” Coccia said.

“We lost 97 per cent of revenue on that night.

“Then we turned our restaurant into a takeaway with [a] new website, online ordering, new menu – we have been trading seven days since last week.

“Unfortunately, it doesn’t make up.

“We only pay our full rent and the food suppliers for the week.

“We can’t pay ourselves, can’t pay staff, Super or anything else.”

Like Fabian Marin from The Italian Sandwich Company, Coccia said she had also not received the financial support promised by the State Government.

“We applied for the grant and have nothing, spending hours on Service NSW with no answers,” she added.

“We have applied for [the] COVID Disaster [Payment] for my husband and it has been a default for weeks.

“As an employer, no one between Service NSW and Centrelink could tell me if I could get the disaster payment.

“Unfortunately, [I] still have to pay for my car loan, rent, food etc … [its] a struggle for business owners.

“We watch the news every day with a government that tells us we need to reach for help, [that] no one will be left alone.

“Well, we feel disgusted.

“Service NSW has put the business on audit with us sending documents and documents for months.

“The business solution [they are] emailing back [with] is not good enough.

“We are refusing the vouchers – [its] a huge impact on our business as they [are] holding the payments.

“We sent ledgers, [our] lease, insurance certificate, bank statement, Instagram, website, Facebook and it is not enough.

“Our ABN is registered for two years, I pay my PAYG weekly and Super and they can’t find our business in NSW.

“We are let down by our government.”

Coccia said she now wants answers.

“We need people with answers businesses can’t wait hours on the phone, transferred from one person to another,” she said.

“We need answers and dates when we will get our grant.

“All this time wasted on the phone and websites while dealing with customers, recreating a business, website and not being able to plan [for] tomorrow.

“Vaccination is not available for people in hospitality, and we are doing face to face every day and delivery with our kids as we don’t have family.”

The State Government has conceded their financial assistance through the business grants hasn’t been good enough.

Parliamentary Secretary for the Central Coast, Adam Crouch, said an additional 150 staff had been hired by Service NSW to cope with the rise in enquiries.

“Since Friday, August 6, these additional staff have been working to clear the backlog, supplementing the work of 258 existing Service NSW staff,” Crouch said.

“I have been advised that the vast majority of applications from business owners are being processed in a timely way, but there are a small number of applications which have been incorrectly submitted or have another issue, which are incredibly time-consuming for Service NSW staff and are the source of delays.”

On Wednesday, August 18, Minister for Customer Service, Victor Dominello, made a series of concessions regarding the wait times, lack of clarity and processes businesses have struggled with to get any financial support.

“Can I begin by apologising to all those businesses who did not receive their grants on time or did not receive phone calls when they should have expected phone calls,” Dominello said.

“The quality of service we have provided over the last month is not up to standard but we are making a lot of progress.”

Currently there are three types of financial support available to local businesses through Service NSW.

The COVID-19 Business Grant is a one-off payment to help businesses, sole traders or not-for-profit organisations impacted by the current Greater Sydney COVID-19 restrictions.

Grants between $7,500 and $15,000 are available to eligible businesses depending on the decline in turnover experienced during the first three weeks of COVID-19 restrictions (June 26 to July 17, 2021).

The JobSaver payment is a fortnightly tax-free payment of 40 per cent of pre–COVID weekly payroll (from $1,500 to $100,000 per week for employing businesses) to help maintain employee headcount and provide cash flow support to impacted businesses and not-for-profits; $1,000 weekly for non-employing businesses and not-for-profits.

This applies from week four of lockdown (July 18) for the duration of the lockdown which is stated to end on August 28.

The COVID-19 micro-business grant is a fortnightly tax-free grant of $1,500 to help impacted micro-businesses and not-for-profits that have a turnover between $30,000 and $75,000.

This applies from week one of lockdown (June 26) for the duration of the lockdown.

More information about the financial support options including the eligibility requirements are available on the Service NSW website.

Maisy Rae