The take-up of the scheme to support businesses with high energy costs is “much, much less than anticipated”, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has told the Dáil.
The Temporary Business Energy Support Scheme (TBESS) is under review in terms of whether it will be extended beyond the end of February or if the terms and conditions need to be changed.
The scheme was costed at €1.25 billion when it was announced in the Budget but only a fraction of this has been used.
The latest figures from Revenue – which administers TBESS – shows that some 8,186 claims worth €17.49 million have been approved.
A total of €13.24 million has been paid out as of January 25th.
Overall 15,275 businesses have registered for the scheme and 9,148 have commenced the claims process.
Under the TBESS qualifying businesses can apply for up to 40 per cent of the increase in electricity or gas bills up to €10,000 per month.
Qualification criteria includes the business experiencing a significant increase of 50 per cent or more in its electricity and/or natural gas average unit price.
Those eligible include “case 1″ tax trading businesses, such as hotels, shops and restaurants.
Fianna Fáil TD Pádraig O’Sullivan asked Mr Varadkar about the scheme in the Dáil.
He said the low take up “shows that the system that is currently there is inaccessible or the criteria is probably too stringent”.
Mr O’Sullivan also suggested the sums on offer are small compared to the increased energy costs faced by businesses.
He gave the example of a business with which he is familiar. Its bill for November and December 2022 was €56,000, up from €15,000 in the same period in 2021.
“We need a dramatic overhaul of the TBESS scheme and how we roll it out,” he said.
Mr Varadkar said the scheme is being reviewed by Minister for Finance Michael McGrath and Minister for Enterprise Simon Coveney.
He said that the take-up is “much, much less than we anticipated”.
“The plan is currently to end the scheme at the end of February but we’re now looking at a) the possibility of extending it because energy prices are still very high for businesses and b) changing the terms and conditions,” Mr Varadkar said.
He also said: “We still haven’t quite figured out why the take-up is not what we thought it would be, whether it’s because people just haven’t applied for it, or whether it’s too hard to qualify, or whether the limits are too low ... that’s now all being examined at the moment.”
Earlier this week it was announced that last Tuesday’s deadline for TBESS claims would be extended.
A one-month extension of time for applications will apply to claims which relate to the September 2022 claim period.
It will mean businesses may make claims in February for the month of September 2022.
Minister McGrath said “it is important that we give businesses adequate opportunity to submit their claims under the scheme.
“The Government will make a decision in the coming weeks on the future of the TBESS scheme along with all the other cost of living measures that are due to expire at the end of February,” he added.
The scheme was criticised in some quarters for being “a damp squib” and for delivering “pittance” payments to the hospitality sector.
Paul Gallagher, general manager of well-known Dublin hotel Buswells, said many businesses may be eligible only for low levels of support.