27 October 1995

Grant advisers rip-off warning

NFU officials and trading standards officers are warning farmers to beware of companies charging hundreds of pounds for grant advice.

The caution follows complaints from farmers who have been approached by different companies offering a business grant advisory service for an initial "search fee" of up to £435+VAT, plus up to 10% of any grant money received.

Paul Tame, East Midlands technical adviser reckons hundreds of farmers have been contacted by different companies across the country. He said: "Farmers must think twice before they deal with these people."

Their usual pitch is to claim there are EU-funded grants, worth more than £2bn, waiting to be claimed by British businesses. These include grants or "soft loans" for machinery, buildings, computers, staff training, marketing and overseas trade.

Company reps, who claim to have a computer database listing all available schemes, then offer to carry out a search for a "modest" fee. They say the money will be refunded if the search fails to identify any "appropriate" grants.

Mr Tame said the company may produce a long list of grants, but many were "completely inappropriate".

"I know of a couple of cases where farmers have handed money over. They have got information in return but they didnt end up with a grant," said Mr Tame.

These farmers did not get their money back because of a clause within the contract which says the fee will not be refunded if a grant application is unsuccessful.

Michael Bowie, special investigations officer, Notts trading standards, said farmers must look carefully at the contracts. "I cant see any circumstances under which the money can be refundable," he said.

After checking companies claims he has found some libraries can provide a similar computerised grant advisory service for about £5. City chamber of commerce offices, MAFF, the NFU and countryside agencies also offer grant advice.