’We are forgotten’, sole traders at wits’ end


By Taylah Eastwell

Sole traders across the Yarra Valley and Dandenong Ranges feel they are at breaking point, with the state government’s most recent round of grants still not providing any practical financial assistance to businesses not earning enough to be GST registered.

The new wave of business grants were announced in response to the current lockdown which came into effect on August 5, leaving many sole traders hopeful for reprieve.

The $400 million package, funded jointly by the state and federal government, provided businesses who had already received a grant under the Business Costs Assistance Program with further payments of $2,800.

In a media release provided to Star News, Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenburg and Victorian Treasurer Tim Pallas announced the payments as ‘automatic payments to almost 100,000 eligible businesses, including sole traders’.

Sole traders were said to be covered under the Small Business Covid Hardship Fund which offered grants of up to $10,000 to businesses that weren’t eligible for other grant programs and had experienced a 70% reduction in turnover.

Millgrove resident and sole trader, Jen Holmes said that upon closer look, sole traders were again only eligible if registered for GST.

Ms Holmes expressed her frustration in a TikTok video that she posted to Facebook, and was overwhelmed by the comments and messages she received from struggling sole traders.

“It was marketed as if it was going to help everyone who missed the previous grants, a lot of people were relieved they would finally be getting some help,” Ms Holmes said.

“Then when they went to apply the clause is that you must be GST registered. A lot of the businesses had deregistered themselves because they simply haven’t earnt enough with the last year of Covid. Once I put the feelers out it was bad. It’s devastating. They didn’t qualify again because they weren’t registered or had de-registered due to it not being financially worthwhile,” she said.

“I’m not political, but to me, that is just making people become GST registered while giving them no guarantee of any earnings,” she added.

As a house keeper, Ms Holmes said the last 18-months without support have been extremely tough.

“When money is tight everything turns to sh** at the house. I’m a sole provider like a lot of people doing the best they can. There are a lot of businesses and people that have been around for a really long time hanging on by a thread and it’s just really really sad,” she said.

“So many people just don’t know what’s going on. Lots of people still have their incomes so they don’t have a clue. This announcement was put out there to say that they are helping everyone, but it was a lie. It was very sneakily done,” she said.

Ms Holmes has had people contact her fully believing she was getting help from the government without realising the hurdles small businesses need to jump through.

“I had a woman at the bank ask me why I can’t work from home. I’m a house keeper, unfortunately I can’t keep my own house and invoice someone else for it. They’ve just got no idea,” she said.

Instead, sole traders have been left limited options, including contacting a concierge service or Partners in Wellbeing Helpline for financial and business counselling.

They can also apply for $750 Covid-19 hardship payments through Centrelink, a move Ms Holmes described as “like dangling five cents to a kid to go and buy a lolly”.

“The money doesn’t even touch the sides with the debts people have got. They are grateful, the sole traders are the ones who have been forgotten and they haven’t said a word this whole time,” she said.

“I know someone who tried to get help for four and a half weeks and then had a breakdown. This curfew has knocked everyone, so many people in the Valley are about to lose everything, and there’s not even a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel.

“They stand there and say they understand the struggles of small business but they don’t. They don’t understand what they are doing to kids and to people. They say there are plenty of other jobs but there aren’t,” she said.

“They’ve got to look after the little people keeping the community going. If everyone gets on the unemployment, there goes the building trade, there goes every trade and everything you can imagine, and there’s not even a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel,” Ms Holmes said.