Eat out to Help Out loophole saves £180 on meals

A table of six could save up to £180 if they paid the bill separately for each course and had a starter, main and a dessert

The scheme has so far cost the Treasury £336m
The scheme has so far cost the Treasury £336m Credit: Dominic Lipinski/PA

An Eat out to Help Out loophole meant diners could save up to £180 off meals, the Telegraph has discovered, as the Treasury admitted it is powerless to stop gaming of scheme.

People eating out under the scheme were able to cheat their way to bigger discounts by asking to pay for each course separately, and claim a discount of up to £10 per person for each.

This means that a table of six could have saved up to £180 if they each claimed the full discount for a three course meal.

The scheme gave diners up to £10 off food and soft drinks on Mondays to Wednesdays throughout August and ends on Monday.

Several restaurants told this newspaper that they had been asked to process bills for each course separately by customers, although most said they had declined to do so.

A Treasury source said there was nothing in the rules of the scheme to prevent such gaming of the system and the trade body UK Hospitality said it was aware of diners using the loophole to boost their savings. 

A Treasury spokesman urged the public to “respect the spirit” of the scheme.

The emergence of such a loophole will fuel fears that the cost of the offer could be over-inflated. Figures released earlier this week revealed that, as of August 23, the total amount claimed for was £336m.

John O'Connell, chief executive of the TaxPayers' Alliance, said:  "This scheme is in danger of egregiously eating into taxpayers' pockets.  

“While action was needed to reopen the restaurant sector, subsidies like this produce unintended consequences by distorting spending decisions and quickly running up big bills which taxpayers will eventually have to pay off.

“Instead of meddling in our meals, ministers should stay away from these schemes in the future.”

Kate Nicholls, the chief executive of UK Hospitality, said: “Asking to be billed separately for individual courses is not against the system. Businesses can claim back the money anyway, so, in theory, everybody benefits if the discount is applied that way. 

“It might cause administrative headaches for some businesses, though. So, it is a good idea if customers talk to the business, ideally when they make their booking, to explain that’s how they want to be billed.”

Diners enjoy a discounted meal under the scheme Credit: Tolga Akmen/AFP

Another loophole identified by the Telegraph was when diners craftily chose to eat a different course at multiple venues throughout the night, therefore saving far more money had they stayed in one place and met the £10 cap.

Oisin Rogers, landlord of Guinea Grill and the Windmill in Mayfair, said: "People were having lunch in Soho and meeting at mine for a pint before, I'd persuade them to have a starter here first as Rishi [Sunak] wouldn't be aware that they were going somewhere else after."

Another pub in central London witnessed customers coming to take advantage of bar snacks and starters before heading to have meals in the West End. The landlord told The Telegraph that one such reveller had a cheap seven-course lunch by taking advantage of this method.

A spokesman for the Treasury said: “The Eat out to Help out scheme is designed to protect jobs and the figures indicate it is working – with over 64 million meals claimed for since it launched.

“We encourage people to respect the spirit of the scheme.”

Ms Nicholls said it had been a “great success” and pointed out that many restaurants are planning to continue with it voluntarily into September, without the support of the Government.

However, she warned that most would be too “financially vulnerable” after months of lockdown to continue offering discounts.

She said a formal extension would “keep customers excited about going out and give businesses the support they still need”.

The Treasury has previously ruled out an extension.

Among the restaurants which are voluntarily extending the scheme are the Gilbert Scott and Aqua Shard in London, Perdu Perdu in Manchester and New Chapter in Edinburgh. Oakman Inns will also extend its discounts.