Restaurants offering discounts via the Eat Out to Help Out scheme offered by the government in August made claims of £849m ($1.1b) by 30 September, new data has shown. This far surpasses the £500m the government had budgeted for the programme.
In July, chancellor Rishi Sunak announced a groundbreaking plan for the government to subsidise people’s meals out in restaurants with the hope of giving the economy a much-needed boost amid the coronavirus pandemic.
It offered people 50% off the price of their meals, up to a maximum of £10 per head, in participating restaurants from Monday to Wednesday throughout August.
Restaurants needed to register with the government to take part in the scheme. Once approved, they could claim back the discount offered to diners each week.
The government estimated 130,000 businesses were eligible to take part and expected to spend £500m on the scheme, or equivalent to subsidising 50 million meals.
According to new data the government has posted, over 52,000 businesses registered for the programme and over 49,000 of these had made a claim for the scheme by 30 September.
£849m had been claimed through the scheme by 30 September, which meant restaurants provided discounts for over 160 million meals served in August. It also means the government will be dishing out £349m more than it had anticipated to cover the discounts.
The government also said the average discount per meal claimed for was £5.24 and 55% of the discount was claimed by businesses operating primarily as restaurants, with a further 28% claimed by pubs.
Some 93% of claims and 52% of the total discount claimed was for businesses with just one participating outlet.
Less than 1% of claims were from businesses with more than 25 outlets, but these businesses made up 34% of the meals claimed for and 27% of the total discount claimed.
The government also said 83% of the registered business who participated also made use of the ‘Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme’ to furlough staff since March. This reduced to 61% furloughing some staff in August.
The scheme has also run into some trouble before: earlier this month, government officials warned around 4,000 companies that they face investigation if they do not ensure claims under the scheme are accurate.
HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) said that it was sending letters to businesses that might have made an incorrect claim.
The news came amid serious concerns of fraud among many of the government’s support schemes that were designed to help more than a million companies through the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Claimants have 60 days to respond to the letter or we may start a formal compliance check. This could include having to pay statutory interest and penalties,” HMRC had said in a statement.
A study by the University of Warwick last month said that the scheme helped spread the coronavirus and contributed to a second wave of infections.
A spokesman for the UK Treasury had said at the time that "many other European counterparts have experienced an uptick in cases – irrespective of whether similar measures for the hospitality industry have been introduced.”
WATCH: How the government's Eat Out to Help Out scheme will work