Ombudsman says state government stuff-up penalised small businesses for ‘honest mistakes’
A state government stuff-up has left business owners unable to access up to $120 million in grants designed to provide an economic lifeline to small businesses during the pandemic.
A Victorian Ombudsman report published today reveals up to 12,000 struggling businesses may be entitled to funds.
Many applications were denied because, unbeknown to business owners, applications were in draft awaiting further information when the deadline expired.
In other cases, typos were to blame for application rejections.
But business owners trying to appeal their rejections struggled to reach the Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions.
Victorian Ombudsman Deborah Glass says “basically people were being penalised for their honest mistakes”.
“What the Department wasn’t doing was exercising reasonable discretion.”
The Jobs Department’s call centre was initially only staffed with five people, and when it was later boosted to 500 workers, they weren’t given access to the department’s case management system.
The Ombudsman is calling on the state government to invite 12,000 businesses whose applications were knocked back to re-apply.
“If you’re going to put in a call centre you need to staff it with people who get access to the information they need to answer people’s questions,” she told Neil Mitchell.
Ms Glass said while it’s possible businesses have gone to the wall while awaiting grants, she hasn’t heard of any.
“For many it’s better late than never,” she said.
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