COVID-19 - Retailer Unlawfully Refused Government Financial Support

If you run a business and feel that you were wrongly denied government financial support during the COVID-19 pandemic, you should contact a solicitor straight away. A small fashion retailer who did just that succeeded in a High Court challenge.

The retailer, which operated from a unit on an industrial estate, applied for grant aid and business rates relief under schemes that were put in place to give emergency assistance to certain businesses during the pandemic. In rejecting the applications, a local authority refused to accept that the retailer was in occupation of the unit.

After the retailer launched a judicial review challenge, the council admitted that it had erred in law and accepted that the retailer was in some form of beneficial occupation of the unit when the pandemic took hold. It asserted, however, that it was highly likely that the applications would have been refused in any event. That was on the basis that the retailer had failed to show that the unit was mainly used as a shop, which was reasonably accessible to members of the public.

The Court found, however, that the council's admitted legal error was a fundamental one which infected other aspects of its decision-making process. Its initial view that the unit was unoccupied was in part based on an extremely poor-quality inspection report that was directly contradicted by video evidence put forward by the retailer. The decision was overturned and the council was directed to consider the retailer's applications afresh.