Updated guide for 2024: Government support for small businesses

Starting or growing a business is incredibly challenging. Fortunately, the government has a whole host of advice, support and funding for startups. Understanding and accessing it, however, is easier said than done.

We’ve rounded up the most important government help out there into one handy guide. You’ll learn exactly what support is available for your business at a national and local level, and how to access it.

This post was updated in January 2024.

Jump to:

  1. Advice and resources
  2. Loans
  3. Grants
  4. Tax reliefs

Advice and resources

GOV.UK website

GOV.UK is a single point of access to all government services and information. It provides information and guidance on starting and running a business, and the ability to search for support using the business finance and support finder.

The business finance and support finder is an interactive tool which is searchable by sector, business size, location, activity and business stage. It allows businesses to search for government-backed support and finance, including:

  • Grants, finance and loans
  • Business support e.g. mentoring or consultancy
  • Funding for small and medium-sized businesses

The website also has information on:

National Business Support Helpline

The Business Support Helpline provides business and funding advice to people thinking about starting up or who already have a business. The helpline also shares essential national information and signposting to local support.

Businesses in England can call 0800 998 1098 to speak to a business support advisor (9.00am – 6.00pm Monday to Friday) or email enquiries@businesssupporthelpline.org.  Businesses can also ask questions through their LiveChat or connect on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.

Details vary for Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

Local help for business

There are 38 Growth Hubs across the country, one for every Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP). Businesses can connect with their local Growth Hub to access funding, advice and support. 

It’s a great way to find grants and other support that’s specific to your region. 

Small Business Commissioner

The Small Business Commissioner helps small businesses tackle late payment and unfavourable payment practices in the private sector. 

The scheme covers the entire UK and has so far managed to retrieve over £8 million in unpaid invoices for small businesses to date.

Loans 

Start Up Loans Company

The Start Up Loans Company is a subsidiary of the British Business Bank and funds loans of up to £25,000. 

If you have a great business idea or you’ve been trading for less than 36 months, you could be eligible. Successful applicants get free mentoring for 12 months. The loans can be repaid over one to five years. You must be aged 18-plus, based in the UK and be a UK resident.

The scheme has supported over 90,000 businesses with more than £800 million worth of loans.

Recovery Loan Scheme

The Recovery Loan Scheme is available to small and medium sized enterprises to help access loans and financial support. Up to £2 million (£1 million for Northern Ireland) is now available per business. 

To be eligible for the recovery loan scheme, your business must be trading in the UK and have a turnover of £45 million or less. You will also need to show that your business is viable and not in difficulty.

Finance through this scheme can be used for any legitimate business purpose, including working capital or investment. However, there are several business sectors that are not eligible for the scheme, including banks, building societies, insurers, public sector bodies and state-funded schools.

The loans are available through a network of accredited lenders, which are listed on the British Business Bank’s website.

Read our article about how to get money to start a business for more information on the types of funding that are available.

Grants

Innovate UK

Innovate UK is a government organisation that provides funding to support R&D and innovation activity, mainly through web-based competitions.

Businesses can apply for funding to test the feasibility of an idea and develop their businesses. The funding competitions run by Innovate UK are published on their Innovation competitions page.

Innovate UK also runs the Knowledge Transfer Network, which provides business owners with useful connections in specific sectors.

Gigabit Broadband Voucher Scheme

The Gigabit Broadband Voucher Scheme provides up to £4,500 for businesses that are struggling with slow broadband speeds in rural areas. 

Gigabit vouchers can be used by homes and businesses to go towards the cost of installing gigabit-capable broadband connections. To be eligible, homes and businesses in rural locations must meet the following criteria when part of a group project:

  • An existing broadband speed of less than 100Mbps
  • You live in an area where a gigabit capable network isn’t going to be built in the near future
  • There is no government-funded contract planned or in place to improve the network already
  • Single connections are not eligible for this scheme.

Apprenticeships

Businesses can benefit from hiring an apprentice. If your annual pay bill is less than £3 million per year, the government will pay up to 95% of the training and assessment costs.

For more information on grant funding, read our article a guide to obtaining grant funding for UK startups.

Arts Council England

The Arts Council Grant Scheme is aimed at organisations undertaking creative projects as part of their primary activity. It’s open to individuals as well as organisations, libraries and galleries.

Find any open funds here.

Investment support

The UK has two schemes which incentivise investors to back early-stage businesses; the Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme and Enterprise Investment Scheme. 

These are important to consider if you’re raising funding.

Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme 

The Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme (SEIS) is designed to help businesses raise up to £250,000 worth of investment.

If your business has been trading for less than two years, you can use SEIS to incentivise potential investors to fund your growth. The scheme is designed to help companies raise money by offering tax reliefs to individual investors who buy shares in your company.

There are various rules you must follow so your investors can claim and keep SEIS tax reliefs relating to their shares, so it’s important to check the guidance carefully. 

Read our guide on pitching angel investors to find out more about how to find out more about raising seed investment. 

Enterprise Investment Scheme

The Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS) enables businesses to raise up to £5 million each year, and a maximum of £12 million in your company’s lifetime. 

Like SEIS, this is a venture capital scheme designed to help companies raise money by offering tax reliefs to individual investors who buy new shares in your company. EIS, however, is geared towards more established businesses.

Companies also must have less than 250 full-time equivalent employees.

Again, check the guidance carefully. There are various rules you must follow so your investors can claim and keep EIS tax reliefs relating to their shares.

Tax reliefs

The government offers support to small businesses through a number of schemes to reduce tax liabilities.

Annual investment allowance (AIA)

If you need to buy assets that can be classed as plant and machinery (excluding cars), you can claim tax relief on the full value of these items in the first year of purchase. 

The criteria is stringent, so it’s worth checking if you qualify and also remember you may need to pay tax if you sell the item after claiming it.

Capital allowance

If you buy an asset that qualifies for first year allowances, you can deduct the full cost from your profits before tax and it doesn’t count towards your annual investment allowance. If you use energy-saving equipment – such as cars that are electric or have zero CO2 emissions – you can claim “enhanced capital allowances”.

You can claim 100% first year allowances in addition to annual investment allowance (AIA), as long as you do not claim both for the same expenditure. To get capital allowance, you must claim it on your tax return.

Creative industry tax reliefs

If your business contributes to the creative industry, you may be eligible for one of eight corporation tax reliefs that allow companies to claim a larger deduction or, in some circumstances, claim a payable tax credit when calculating your taxable profits. Find out if your business qualifies.

Employment Allowance

Businesses can reduce their National Insurance bill by up to £5,000 by claiming the Employment allowance. It means that no National Insurance contributions are payable until your £5,000 allowance has been used up or the tax year ends (whichever comes sooner). 

Businesses with only one employee can’t claim Employment Allowance.

Business Asset Disposal Relief

If you’re selling all or part of your business, this scheme allows you to pay only 10% Capital Gains Tax on any qualifying assets.

Patent box 

If your company is liable to pay corporation tax and makes a profit from patented inventions, you may be able to apply for the lower rate of corporation tax (10%) on profits earned. Only certain patents are eligible, so it’s worth checking if you qualify.

R&D tax credits 

Research and Development (R&D) tax reliefs can either reduce a company’s tax bill or provide a cash sum. It’s based on how much a company spends on R&D and specifically looks at projects that are trying to advance science or technology. 

Learn more about the recent reforms to R&D tax reliefs here.

Business rates relief

You can get business rates relief if your property’s rateable value is less than £15,000 or your business only uses one property (though you may still be eligible if you use more). You’ll need to contact your local council to apply for small business rate relief.

National business support programmes

Enterprise Zones

Enterprise Zones are designated areas across England that provide tax breaks and government support to new and expanding businesses.

Businesses located within an Enterprise Zone can access benefits such as 100% business rate discounts up to £275,000 over a five-year period or 100% enhanced capital allowances (tax relief) to help firms make large investments.

Businesses can also access simplified local authority planning. Local Development Orders grant automatic planning permission for certain developments, such as new industrial buildings or changing how existing buildings are used, within specified areas.

You can find your local Enterprise Zone here.

Department for International Trade

The Department for International Trade’s export hub provides advice and training on selling overseas, from finding target markets to contacting suppliers. 

Intellectual Property Office (IPO)

The Intellectual Property Office provides information on things like trademarks, patenting and copyright. The IPO also has a range of online training tools.

Be the Business

Be the Business provides free targeted support and guidance for UK business leaders, including guides, action plans, tools and templates, business stories and mentoring support

We endeavour to keep this guide up to date. Please email chris@thepitch.uk if you spot something that needs updating.

Want to get more support for your business? Our newsletter shares expert advice and resources. Find out more here.

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Author
Karina Kundzina
Karina Kundzina is the Content and Marketing Assistant at Inkwell, the company behind The Pitch.

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