Only around £197k of the government's £300m business rates relief fund has actually been allocated, Liberal Democrat research has revealed, despite businesses being hit with higher rates over four months ago.
Vince Cable has accused the government of "crippling businesses through incompetence" by failing to ensure the relief is provided in time.
The £300m national relief fund was announced in the Spring Budget to help businesses hardest hit by the business rates revaluation, which came into force in April and has hit many small firms with punishing tax hikes.
Of the 99 local authorities that responded to Freedom of Information requests, only two said they have so far distributed any money from the fund to local businesses, Tambridge (£156k) and Amber Valley (£41k).
A quarter of councils that gave a reason for the delay blamed the need to update software to automate payments, one third said they were still waiting for approval from their local council while one fifth were still developing local schemes to distribute the funds.
Liberal Democrat Leader, Vince Cable, commented:
"The government's business rates fiasco threatens to turn our high streets into ghost towns.
"The hardest hit businesses were promised rapid relief to cushion the blow, but five months on most have received nothing.
"That is enough time to wreck many a small independent business, who face having to lay off staff or even go bust.
"This delay is completely unacceptable. The government risks crippling thousands of small businesses through its incompetence.
"It beggars belief that the relief fund was not properly set up before the business rates revaluation came into force, leaving local authorities with very little time to put together effective schemes.
"Ministers now need to get a grip and make sure struggling business owners get help before it's too late."