A number of Ballarat businesses beginning their recovery from COVID-19 have been dealt another blow, finding they are no longer eligible for the JobKeeper payment.
Businesses needed to re-check their eligibility for JobKeeper on Monday to allow payments to continue until the cut off date of March 28 at a rate reduce by up to $200 a week.
Businesses would be eligible for the payment if their income was down more than 30 per cent in the last quarter compared to the previous year.
Commerce Ballarat chief executive Jodie Gillett said it was disappointing businesses may no longer be eligible for JobKeeper based on income from their busiest time of the year.
It is really disappointing for many sectors like hospitality and retail which are very much just in the beginning of their recovery.Jodie Gillett, Commerce Ballarat
"Because December is a high trade month for a number of sectors, it is unfortunate that will mean they will not be eligible for JobKeeper," she said.
"It is really disappointing for many sectors like hospitality and retail which are very much just in the beginning of their recovery.
"We would have liked to see the government assess those sectors over a longer period of time rather than a period of time that includes their highest trade for the year."
Ms Gillett said most hospitality and retail venues relied on their Christmas trade to help them throughout the entire year.
"Most are down 20 to 25 per cent on the previous December but not the 30 per cent that triggers JobKeeper to stay," she said.
"People might have been in a hospitality venue that was busy over December, but should bear in mind they have debt that has carried over they now have to deal with.
"2021 is going to be a very difficult year for many businesses."
Freight Bar and Restaurant owner Chris Sargent said his business became ineligible for JobKeeper on Monday after a busy last quarter.
"We came straight out of another lockdown into that. People were spending more and desperate to get out," he said.
"The business for the year was down about 40 per cent. It is a bit rough when eligibility is just that last quarter when spending was high and people were desperate to get out."
Mr Sargent said he was grateful to have received JobKeeper for 12 staff and it had allowed him to remain in business.
"We wouldn't have got through last year without it," he said.
The JobKeeper payments will expire on March 28 under current federal government plans after being gradually reduced from its initial $1500 rate.
Racers Cafe owner Adam Rasmussen said JobKeeper had been a terrific help to keep businesses afloat.
He said his business had improved in the summer months and help was less needed, but JobKeeeper would be essential if lockdowns and travel restrictions were implemented again.
"They can't say in March it (JobKeeper) is over because if there we haven't got full control over the virus then it is not over," he said.
"Generally this is our good time of year, but it won't take much of an outbreak for things to clamp down and not be a good time of year.
"If they stop interstate or regional travel it will change things completely."
Mercure Ballarat managing director Iain Gunn said future uncertainty and continued reduced trading in conjunction with a reduction in subsidies was problematic.
He said another issue was new staff hired to replace JobKeeper staff who left the business did not qualify for the payment.
"It will all combine making it more costly for people to run their businesses at the same time as businesses not having full trade," he said.
"At Mercure we rely heavily on conferencing events and that hasn't returned to us in any meaningful level yet."
Mr Gunn said Mercure would look at the JobMaker scheme, a government incentive for businesses to hire young job seekers aged 16-35 years, as a way of subsidising wage costs.
But he said he was 'a bit apprehensive' because he may not be able to attract people with the right skills and knowledge that fit the scheme.
"The end of March with JobKeeper finishing will be difficult if we haven't got back to normal trading," he said.
Owner of Buninyong cafe Maggie and Kate Katrine Taylor said her business became ineligible for JobKeeper in September.
She said receiving the payment for three staff had allowed her business to reopen in the quiet takeaway only period after closure.
Ms Taylor said she was concerned the industry would lose a safety net if JobKeeper was to end in March.
"The virus is still around and there is always a threat that we might get shut down again," she said.
"It was a saviour for a lot of us and not knowing what would happen if it kicks off again is scary.
"I try to take each week as it comes and try not to think too much in advance at the moment. You can get caught up thinking about it a lot."
Ms Gillett said she was calling on the government to be flexible with the end date for JobKeeper depending on restrictions in the community at the time.
"Victoria has been much harder hit than many other states so our businesses need more support and support for longer," she said.
"Every day has been uncertain for our businesses. I think that is important for people to remember.
"They have been living on the edge for nearly a year now and that will continue on. That is a really difficult and extremely exhausting place to be in that high level of stress and anticipation every day.
"We as a community can be supportive of what they are going through and remember to be considerate and understanding."
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