Farmers and agribusinesses in the south west are being warned against making coronavirus claims simply because it seems like ‘free money’ or ‘everyone else is doing it’.

Mike Butler, a partner at accountants and business advisers PKF Francis Clark in the south and west of England, said that it is critical that business owners make entirely sure that they qualify to receive the support offered.

He cautioned that they must be able to justify their claim and show that their business has been sufficiently affected should there be later scrutiny by HMRC and other Government authorities.

Some claims could be considered fraudulent in the worst case scenario, warns Mike.

His advice comes as many farmers and agribusinesses are inundated with information on the various grants and loans available as part of the Government’s response to help businesses during the coronavirus pandemic.

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Mike said: “Don’t make a claim if you are doing so just because it seems like free money or because everyone else seems to being doing it.

“It is becoming increasingly clear that coronavirus is going to cost this country many hundreds of billions of pounds and the longer support measures last and more the scheme are taken up, the more this is going to cost the tax payer.

“As such, the greater the cost, the greater the need to check if those claims are legitimate.

“Add to this the likelihood that a proportion of loans may never get repaid and you can imagine there will be lots of checking and lots of post mortems further down the line.

“If farmers and agribusinesses feel that they have been adversely affected and had to scale down then they should seriously consider making whatever claim they feel fits their circumstances knowing that they can substantiate their actions should they later be scrutinised.”

Mike added: “There is widely expected to be a formal review process and audit of claims once we get back to some form of normality and with that comes the risk that some businesses may be found to have made inappropriate claims.

“In a worst case scenario, claims could be considered fraudulent with the obvious serious implications which that may entail.”

Claims under the Self Employed Income Support Scheme (SEISS), the income support grant available for the self-employed and partners in partnerships, requires the claimant to assess that business has had to ‘scale down or temporarily stop trading’ in order to make a claim as set out on the Government website.

The same considerations should have been given before accessing funds through the Bounce Back Loan Scheme (BBL) which are only eligible to businesses that have been or are being ‘adversely impacted by coronavirus’.

Mike added: “Think very carefully before a claim and know how you will answer a later claim audit and put in place evidence justifying the claim is vital before you jump on to the Government website and make the claim.”

For further information contact Mike Butler on 01722 786703 or or any of the other team members at PKF-Francis Clark who will be very happy to discuss the position without cost or obligation.