Flemish government demands return of €18 million in falsely awarded Covid-19 premiums

Flemish government demands return of €18 million in falsely awarded Covid-19 premiums
Credit: Bobo Boom / Flickr

The Flemish government has requested thousands of companies to give back a total of €18 million by the end of the month, after finding that their requests for Covid-19 premiums were unsubstantiated.

The premiums were part of a €1.3 billion governmental plan to grant businesses financial support during the pandemic. In total, more than 175,000 companies applied. 2,176 of them have now been asked to return the funds, amounting to €18 million, according to the Flemish Agency for Innovation and Enterprises (Vlaio).

“We knew that there were ways for some companies to unjustly apply for the premium,” administrator-general Mark Andries of Vlaio told Het Nieuwsblad. “We knew they would abuse the system. And we also knew that we would have to check for that in retrospect. It now turns out that these checks are paying off.”

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Andries expects this number to only rise in the near future. “The inspections will continue in the coming weeks and months. There will undoubtedly be more unjustly filed requests for premiums, and we will be asking for those back as well, of course.”

The Flemish government has granted Vlaio five years to evaluate all requests. In order to fully qualify, businesses must demonstrate that they have had to close their doors and suffered a loss of income during the pandemic and that they have been registered with the Chamber of Commerce.

Self-employed people working from home were excluded. Premiums were given out based on hindrance to business caused by the safety measures or by lack of customers during the lockdown. Companies could also receive premiums to support them after the lockdown, if business remained low.

Vlaio’s list shows that not only small and medium-sized businesses, but also big corporations, doctors, schools, pharmacies, funeral homes, football clubs, and assisted living homes requested the premiums.

In some cases, premiums were requested more than once: one hotel owner applied two times, once for his hotel, and once for the hotel’s restaurant.

Cinema Kinepolis received premiums worth €84,000, entertainment corporation Studio 100 collected €85,000, C&A got €44,000, and Mediamarkt was granted more than €150,000.

Clothing company Brantano, which was declared bankrupt on Monday, received €44,000.

Amée Zoutberg

The Brussels Times

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