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Brexit introduced some significant changes for businesses that import and export goods and services, with extra work and new rules to abide by.
In recognition of this, the government created the Brexit Support Fund, a £20 million package which was designed to help small and medium sized businesses who trade exclusively with the EU.
This guide outlines the remit of the SME Brexit Support Fund and how to apply for the grant.
What is the Brexit Support Fund?
The UK left the EU officially on 1 January 2021, leaving many businesses facing uncertainty over their trading with the rest of Europe. Despite the fact that a so-called Hard Brexit was avoided by the Withdrawal Agreement, the changes in import and export processes represented a very significant hurdle for businesses to overcome.
The timing of Brexit could not have been worse either, coinciding with the worst global pandemic in living memory. Even with the financial COVID support offered by the government, many small and medium sized businesses would not have been able to survive the uncertainty of Brexit without additional help.
The SME Brexit Support Fund is a scheme that was announced by the Brexit Taskforce in response to concerns raised by the business community. The funding is specifically targeted to support small and medium-sized businesses, providing financial assistance and advice to guide them through the choppy waters of post-Brexit import and export.
Up to £2,000 can be provided to each business under this scheme which should be used for practical measures such as professional advice and training regarding import and export processes.
Who is Eligible for Support?
Small and medium sized businesses who need help learning more about import and export can receive support from the Brexit Support Fund. However, there are certain qualifying criteria which must be fulfilled.
To be eligible, the business must:
- Be established in the UK for Customs purposes
- Must not have previously breached its Customs or tax obligations
- Must have been established in the UK for at least one year prior to submitting an application under the scheme. Alternately, it may hold Authorised Economic Operator status
- Have a turnover of £100 million or less
- Not have over 500 employees
- Only import and export goods between the UK and the EU, or the mainland and Northern Ireland.
Any business which already imports and exports products from outside the EU would not be eligible for this funding.
In addition to meeting all of the above criteria, the business must also satisfy one of the following two conditions:
- Have the intention of completing internal import or export declarations for its own products
- Use a third party to complete import or export declarations but still requires further internal capacity to be able to export or import goods. This might include (but is not limited to) advice on managing a supply chain or information on the rules of origin.
Why Has the Scheme Been Introduced?
The preparation for Brexit was less than ideal for many businesses, due to the widespread uncertainty about whether an agreement would be reached in time. There was much speculation about whether a hard Brexit would be necessary, or what the terms of a Withdrawal Agreement would look like.
This conjecture and lack of concrete plans meant that businesses were forced to sit and wait to find out what the government agreed. The Withdrawal Agreement was announced at the last minute, leaving businesses very little time to find out what would be expected of them in the future.
Although the UK officially left the EU in January 2021, a transition period was agreed to allow businesses time to acclimatise to the new rules. The full impact of the new trading rules will not be felt until 1 July 2021, six months later than was originally planned.
The Brexit Taskforce recognised that it would be a steep learning curve for smaller businesses with no prior experience of trading outside the EU. Imports and exports within the EU were much simpler than what would be required in a post-Brexit world, so the funding was created to allow businesses to gain the necessary knowledge to continue to trade effectively.
What Can the SME Brexit Support Fund Be Used For?
Unlike some of the COVID support schemes which allowed businesses to use the money in the way that would be most helpful, there were strict conditions about the Brexit Support Fund. The grants could only be used to access the very specific types of support that it was originally intended for.
Businesses could choose between:
Training is one of the permitted uses for the Brexit Support Fund and could include training on the following:
- Completing declarations for Customs
- Using the Customs software and systems
- Managing the end-to-end Customs process
- Import and export related knowledge such as VAT, rules of origin and excise.
As well as formal training, you can use the funding to seek professional advice about matters pertaining to import and export. This could include anything from import VAT and safety regulations through to Customs requirements and security processes.
How Do I Apply?
The Brexit Support Fund was administered by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) on behalf of HMRC and businesses were able to apply online for the grant. The scheme closed with effect from 30 June 2021 so is no longer accepting new applications.
Only a fraction of the money set aside for the Brexit Support Fund was allocated by the deadline, and there have been calls for a second round of funding to be released. The Federation of Small Businesses has lobbied for a streamlined version of the grant to be made available, with money that can be used on learning for tech, training and professional advice.
There has been no official response yet to the suggestion of a second type of Brexit funding for SMEs.