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Calls for reintroduction of 9% VAT rate heard in Seanad Eireann

Details of the Increase Cost of Business Grant scheme outlined

Waterford Fine Gael Senator John Cummins highlighted the increased pressure being faced by high labour, low margin businesses predominately food-based businesses and small retailers in a commencement debate with Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment Neale Richmond TD on Wednesday 24th January.


Senator Cummins cited an example of a Waterford café and restaurant owner whom he had spoken to recently who has seen their margin decrease from 9% to 1% due to the cumulative effects of stubbornly high energy costs, the knock-on effect of minimum wage increases on salaries that were above the previous minimum wage and tax warehousing from the pandemic.


Senator Cummins called for details of the flexibility that would be applied to warehoused debt to be published without delay and asked that food-based businesses in particular beconsidered for a reintroduction of the 9% VAT rate. He said “The common denominator across the businesses that are struggling whom I’ve spoken to is they are predominately food-based. Minister Paschal Donohoe introduced a special rate of 9% at a very difficult time in November 2020. That rate was restored to its regular rate for the whole hospitality sector in the last budget. However, I believe there is a strong case for differentiating between food-based businesses and the wider hospitality sector. We did see price gouging across the hotel sector, largely by the chains in the capital and not by smaller hoteliers in regional Ireland who I think were let down by their colleagues in Dublin but I would ask that it is re-examined”.


Responding Minister Richmond said the Department had prepared a report examining the impact of recent costs on businesses with a direct focus on legislative and policy changes initiated by the Government. “Many businesses fed into this report, shared their experiences and even their own costings and financial figures to ensure their sector and its needs were represented. This report is being finalised in the coming weeks and will provide a pathway for decisions moving forward”. 


He acknowledged “There is a direct impact on food-based businesses, which the Senator cited, such as restaurants and cafés, which are perhaps separate from hotels, as well as certain pubs and bars and much smaller retailers - not all of retail but small retail. The common denominator between these sectors is that they are low-margin, high-labour”.


“The Senator is correct regarding the VAT rate and the emergency cut to 9% that previously applied. It was extremely effective. It was a lifeline for many businesses but, unfortunately, it was too good for too many businesses and many businesses that did not deserve it were getting it. I fundamentally believe that we need to examine the VAT rate for food-based businesses as a priority including restaurants, cafés and small retail as well”.


In response to Senator Cummins questioning on the new ‘increased cost of business grant scheme’, Minister Richmond said “The Senator asked about the increased cost of business grant. This is a short-term measure to provide immediate relief to up to 95% of rated businesses. As it stands, we have budgeted €257 million. These refunds will go to about 143,000 small businesses. Under the terms of the scheme, if a business paid less than €30,000 in commercial rates last year, it will receive a cash injection of up to €5,000 in the first quarter of this year. It will be targeted at exactly the businesses the Senator mentioned. It is not to cover every cost. There has been an element of misinformation, which was not deliberate. Some people are wondering if it is a commercial grant rebate and whether there is an application process. The answer is "No". We are working with our colleagues in the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage and this will be a direct cash injection using the rates system to calculate the amount paid and as a reverse payments method. Rather than paying money out of your account to the local authority for commercial rates, you will get a cash injection back using the same method. We expect all of these grants to be paid out by the end of this quarter. There is no application process needed”.

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