BUSINESSES have been left “hours away from collapse” after a delay in handing out crucial Covid-19 grants.

Brighton and Hove City Council is tasked with handing out Covid restart grants to struggling businesses as lockdown restrictions are eased.

However, there are worries for the future of firms across the city after two-week delay in opening up an application portal for the crucial financial help.

The grant scheme came into effect nationally on April 1 – but Brighton and Hove businesses were unable to apply until last Thursday, April 15.

Labour MP Peter Kyle then wrote a letter to the council’s chief executive, Geoff Raw, urging the authority to “expedite the process and minimise delays”.

Speaking today, the MP for Hove and Portslade said: “Local businesses knew the scheme had been announced and it was imminent, but there was no application process, no money forthcoming and the business were desperately struggling.

“I’ve spoken to some businesses that were hours away from collapse.

“They were aware a fund was being created, but had no idea of when or how they could get their hands on this lifesaving money.”

The council said the delay was due to additional requirements in handing out the money, particularly in relation to fraud prevention.

A spokesman said: “This meant that we had to write new software and set up an application process. 

 “Unlike the recent extensions of the scheme we are unable to automatically pay top ups on the basis of previous applications.

 "The portal for applying opened last Thursday, and we had more than 700 applications in the first 24 hours.

 “We have emailed identified eligible businesses with instructions on how to apply.

“We are also inviting eligible businesses who won’t be entitled to a restart grant to apply for an additional discretionary grant.”

The council has warned these grants may take longer to hand-out due to the additional requirements.

The spokesman added: “These grants are subject to an application process as they require assessment at our end. So we will be making payments over a number a weeks in response to the applications being submitted. 

“The stricter pre-payment checks will make the application more complex for some, and more difficult for us to administer.  

“As ever we understand how important it is to get payments out quickly, and we are committed to doing so to help local businesses re-establish themselves as the restrictions are lifted.”

The restart grant scheme supports businesses in the non-essential retail, hospitality, leisure, personal care and accommodation sectors with a one-off grant, to reopen safely as Covid restrictions are lifted.

To check if you’re eligible, visit this webpage: