Just over half of councils in England have begun making payments to firms from a £1.5 billion Covid support package, almost 18 months after it was first launched.
Real estate specialists have said it is “too little too late” and could mean thousands of companies miss out on almost £700 million of available funding.
In March last year the Government said that some businesses including the hospitality sector affected by Covid-19 would be ineligible for a pandemic business rates holiday, and announced a £1.5 billion business rates relief fund for these companies.
Rishi Sunak, the chancellor at the time, gave councils the task of handing out the fund to businesses which applied to the Covid-19 Additional Relief Fund (Carf).
However the results of Freedom of Information requests by property consultancy specialists Gerald Eve have revealed that hundreds of millions of pounds remain unpaid despite less than two months being left before the scheme’s deadline.
The FOI requests to 309 councils in England resulted in 207 responses.
Just over half, 119 councils, said they started making any payments to businesses.
Responding councils which have started making payments account for £632m of the £1.5 billion funding package but have collectively paid out just £329m.
Jerry Schurder, business rates policy lead at Gerald Eve, said: “This fund was supposed to help businesses negatively impacted by the pandemic, but which were denied other business rates support.
“The Government claimed Carf was the fastest and fairest way of getting support to businesses that need it the most, but the past 17 months has shown this to be complete hyperbole.
“In fact, the opposite is true. Sadly, it’s a case of too little, too late for the hundreds of thousands of firms that were retrospectively denied their rights to appeal their rates bills but have yet to receive a penny from the local authorities.”
A Government spokesperson said: “The Government has provided an unprecedented package of support for businesses, including a total of £26 billion in grants to those affected by restrictions put in place to tackle Covid-19.
“Councils are responsible for allocating funding and targeting it to businesses, based on local circumstances.”