Covid cash, continued
THE following is our best effort at a running summary of what support is available to freelances whose income is affected by covid-19 - updated following the Budget announcements by the Chancellor of the Exchequer on 3 March 2021 and the actual Regulations implementing what the Chancellor announced.
If you spot something missing, please email email@example.com now. First, follow these links:
- If you're a traditional freelance
- If your work is paid PAYE
- If you have a limited company
- If you are asked to self-isolate
- Loans, mortgages and rent
- Universal Credit and other benefits
- Community support and more
- Outside the UK?
1. If you’re a traditional freelance
A "traditional freelance" is our attempt at shorthand for someone who strives to make a living by selling work, or licences to use work, by the word, by the image, by the hour, by the day or similarly. For these purposes it does not include people who are paid through the Pay As You Earn (PAYE) system - see below.
The good news is:
- Established freelances can apply for grants from the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS);
- You can claim up to 80 per cent of your qualifying profit for February, March and April 2021;
- Applications will open in "late April" and the deadline will be 31 May 2021;
- Tax returns for 2019/20 will be used to calculate your qualifying profit. So at least some of the ForgottenFreelances who were excluded because they had only recently become self-employed will be eligible. This will apply to those who filed a return before midnight on 2 March;
- If you are not eligible on the basis of your 2019/20 tax return you can still try claiming based on your 2016/17, 2017/18 and 2018/19 returns;
- There will be a fifth SEISS slice, covering May, June and July, with applications opening in "late July";
- Payments are independent of the amount of your actual loss. You do not have to stop working;
- You can claim whether or not you claimed earlier "slices"; and
- Separately, self-assessment taxpayers can ask for more time to pay taxes due in January 2021. MoneySavingExpert says you had to pay (or set up a payment plan) before midnight on 1 April or face a penalty.
- But tax returns must still have been filed on time: if you missed the extended 28 February 2021 deadline you will be charged a penalty. Covid effects can, though, be accepted as grounds to appeal a penalty.
In this context it seems that "profit" refers to the number in the box on your income tax return that calculates your turnover minus allowable expenses.
The bad news includes:
- If you have not traded in both the tax years 2019/20 and 2020/21 you get no grant;
- If you only have a few months' self-employment on your 2019/20 return, this income will be counted as your profit for the whole year and your assessed average income will therefore be stupidly low;
- Grants will be available only to people who got more than half their income from freelancing - so if 51 per cent of your income came from shifts paid Pay As You Earn (PAYE) and 49 per cent from pure freelancing, you will get no SEISS grant;
- The Chancellor announced that for the fifth slice only people whose turnover has fallen by 30 per cent or more will receive 80 per cent of their qualifying profit; those whose turnover has fallen by less will receive 30 per cent, capped at £2850;
- The conditions for receiving the third SEISS slice were that you must:
- carry on a trade the business of which has been adversely affected by reason of circumstances arising as a result of coronavirus or coronavirus disease;
- have delivered a tax return for a relevant tax year on time;
- have carried on a trade in the tax relevant tax years;
- declare that you have been "impacted by reduced demand due to coronavirus in the qualifying period" (we are checking the qualifying period for the fourth slice);
- intend to continue to carry on a trade in the current tax year; and
- declare that you "reasonably believe that you will suffer a significant reduction in trading profits due to reduced business activity, capacity or demand or inability to trade due to coronavirus" during the qualifying period. You must keep evidence that shows how your business has been impacted by coronavirus resulting in less business activity than otherwise expected (see below).
- No grant at all will be paid to anyone with an average trading "profit" over £50,000;
- The payment for February to April is capped at £7500; and
- Any grants you receive will be counted as taxable income.
Things still to be clarified include:
- How the "30 per cent rule" will be administered.
- Further details of the fifth SEISS slice.
There is an eligibility checker on the gov.uk website: you need your 10-digit tax reference number and your National Insurance number.
This (old) guidance gave examples of records that would show that you have reduced demand:
- business accounts showing reduction in activity compared to previous years;
- records of reduced or cancelled contracts or appointments;
- fewer invoices; or
- a record of dates where you had reduced demand or capacity due to government restrictions.
Freelances should already have such records to hand. Don't panic.
Examples provided by HMRC strongly suggest a future plan to refuse grants to freelances who have not sought work outside the field of work that has been affected by coronavirus.
The NUJ has been active in lobbying, with associated unions, for fair treatment of those excluded from these payments, as part of the #ForgottenFreelances campaign. On 28 February 2021 the General Secretary wrote a "last-ditch appeal" to the Chancellor asking for "redress for the millions of self-employed who have missed out on aid during the pandemic" in the 3 March Budget.
At least some of those who were excluded because they have recently become freelance are now covered by SEISS. But we see no shift on those excluded because they were paid PAYE or were forced to operate as limited companies.
Even Sir Peter Bottomley MP (Conservative, Worthing West) expressed disappointment and referred MPs to www.excludeduk.org. Meg Hillier (Labour, Hackney South and Shoreditch and Chair of the Public Accounts Committee) mentioned her constituents who have "not had a penny of income for a year". Christine Jardine MP (Liberal Democrat, Edinburgh West) said that 3 million people have been excluded and on the Chancellor's own figure only 600,000 would be helped by the announcement. David Davis MP (Conservative, Haltemprice and Howden) also mentioned ExcludedUK - while effectively speaking against "austerity" policies and the illusion behind them, that government finances resemble yours. Carol Monaghan MP (Scottish National Party, Glasgow North West) said that the Budget "has done nothing for the 3 million excluded".
Alex Sobel MP (Labour/Co-op, Leeds North West) mentioned Mr Liddle, one of the three million tax-payers who've had no support, and asked whether anything would reach him. "Unlikely," he said, since "only 151,000 people out of the 3 million excluded will receive any support according to the Office for National Statistics". Ben Lake MP (Plaid Cymru, Ceredigion) was concerned that "despite the changes to SEISS hundreds of thousands of people will receive no support".
It seems to the Freelance that the criteria for SEISS are still a database query rewritten in (a kind of) English. That is, the government is not giving people what we need. It's giving us what it can decide on without human intervention. To properly pay SEISS to freelances who were forced to set up a limited company to charge for their services, for example, could involve an actual human inquiring into each case, since the government is determined that SEISS is not payable on income from stakes in other people's companies.
The NUJ has produced a template letter to HMRC to appeal against a decision that you are ineligible for the SEISS scheme due to your PAYE income. It includes this:
I ask HMRC to review the decision in my case that the PAYE income and tax that has been paid is not "employee" income because at no time have I been an employee or anything other than genuinely self-employed...
Local support for businesses
In England, it may also be worth applying for an Additional Restrictions Grant from your local council. These are completely discretionary. Local councils have the freedom to determine the eligibility criteria. The government expects them to help businesses which - while not legally forced to close – are nonetheless severely impacted by coronavirus restrictions. As a freelance, you count as a business.
For Scotland, start by investigating Additional funding for business affected by temporary restrictions; for Wales Financial Support and Grants; and for Northern Ireland the Localised Restrictions Support Scheme (from nibusinessinfo.co.uk).
2. If you do regular shifts, paid PAYE
Freelances who are paid through the Pay As You Earn (PAYE) system are excluded from SEISS (above). The government guarantees that employers get 80 per cent of salaries for employees who are "furloughed", up to a maximum of £2500 a month.
The scheme currently runs to the end of April 2021. The Chancellor announced on 3 March that it will be extended to the end of September. Employers (and clients of PAYE freelances) will have to pay 10 per cent towards the hours their staff do not work in July, increasing to 20 per cent in August and September.
Employers may furlough workers who were in the PAYE system on or before 30 October 2020. Payments for periods on or after 1 May 2021 will be available if you were in the PAYE system on 2 March 2021.
There have been provisions for employers to re-engage and then furlough workers on fixed-term contracts and to claim for employees who transferred from their old employer to a new employer. We're looking for updates on these.
Employers needed to claim for February by 15 March 2021, and will need to claim for March by 14 April 2021, for April by 14 May 2021 and so on.
The NUJ's Freelance Office can offer advice on contractual matters and cancelled work: contact details are here. They have had some success in persuading companies to apply for the funding to furlough casual workers.
Some companies may still not know that they can apply to furlough workers - not just employees. There is also provision for company office holders and for those who work through agencies. See here for the full government advice.
On 2 March 2021 the BBC Coronavirus update for Freelancers referred only to "wellbeing support" and to the possibility of applying to the BBC Benevolent Fund or the Grace Wyndham Goldie (BBC) Trust Fund - the deadline for which is 31 July, with grants arriving in September or October.
The privatised BBC Studios showed best practice by promising to include those on fixed-term contracts and freelances paid PAYE in the furlough scheme. Other companies have not.
3. If you have a limited company
Many freelances have been forced to register themselves as limited companies, some due to clients' superstition over "IR35" rules. A few chose to do so when the tax on income taken as a dividend on their shares in their own company was very much lower than that on income taken as salary.
Self-employed limited company directors can be furloughed as employees of the company - but support payments will be based only on their salary paid PAYE. The work they do for the company is then restricted, but they can continue to perform their statutory obligations as directors - which would include effort to claim the support for the pay they take as an employee. Earnings that they took as dividends do not count. A Treasury Directive issued on 15 April 2020 specifies that you (director) must agree in writing with you (employee) that you are on furlough.
4. If you are asked to self-isolate
People in England who are on low incomes and who are told to self-isolate because of covid-19 can claim £500. You claim from your local authority. This now applies to those told to self-isolate by the "NHS" Test and Trace App as well as to those told by human tracers working for Serco.
You have to meet all four of these criteria to receive the payment:
- You are currently receiving Universal Credit, Working Tax Credit, income-based Employment and Support Allowance, income-based Jobseeker's Allowance, Income Support, Housing Benefit and/or Pension Credit;
- You are employed or self-employed;
- You are unable to work from home and will lose income as a result; and
- You have been told to self-isolate - either for 10 days because you've tested positive, or for 14 days because you are the close contact of a positive case.
You will need to show evidence when you apply:
- Your National Insurance number:
- A notification from Test and Trace (or the app) asking you to self-isolate (including a Unique ID number);
- A bank statement;
- If you are self-employed, evidence of this: business account bank statements or copies of self-assessment returns, for example. (If you are employed you need proof of this, such as a payslip, with a contact for your employer so that it can confirm that you are unable to work from home.)
You need to apply within 14 days of the end of your isolation period.
The money should be paid into a bank account. Central Bedfordshire Council is one of those that gives necessary advice on how to get the money if your bank account is overdrawn when you apply. Some simply refer you to the Citizens' Advice Bureau.
If you do not meet all these conditions, discretionary grants may be available from your local council.
Please contact the Freelance if your local authority application system does not work.
The following link also describes discretionary payments from local councils.
In Scotland, the Aberdeen Evening Express reported on 12 January that only one application in four under the equivalent scheme was approved in October and November. The Liverpool Echo on 11 January reported the same figure for the English city.
Someone on 21 January leaked to the Guardian a recommendation that the £500 payment should be made to everyone who tests positive, so that all those in need can afford to self-isolate, without setting up a massive means-testing machinery. The UK government swiftly sat on the idea... but did not actually rule it out strongly enough that its implementation would count as a U-turn. A J-turn, perhaps.
If you are in England and need practical help while self-isolating, for example with getting food in, see this government page. It refers you to the NHS Volunteer Responders programme, which invites you to call 0808 196 3646 (8am to 8pm, 7 days a week). Some sources say you need to be referred to this programme: your GP or NHS 111 can do this.
5. Loans, mortgages and rent
Government small business "bounce back loans" could be used to support your income, failing all else. Applications for these closed at the end of March 2021, as did those for a Business Interruption Loan Scheme.
The Chancellor announced on 3 March that from 1 April this scheme will be replaced with "recovery loans".
The Recovery Loans will launch on 6 April 2021. The preliminary annoucement turns out to describe four kinds of finance:
- Term loans between £25,001 and £10 million per business, repayable over up to six years;
- Overdrafts between £25,001 and £10 million per business, repayable over up to three years;
- Asset finance between £1000 and £10 million per business, repayable over up to six years; and
- Invoice finance between £1000 and £10 million per business, repayable over up to three years.
The conditions will be that your business is trading in the UK and:
- is viable or would be viable were it not for the pandemic;
- has been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic; and
- is not in "collective insolvency proceedings".
The government will guarantee 80 per cent of these loans, with the lending institution bearing the rest of the risk. No personal guarantees will be taken on loans up to £250,000. We still await important details such as the interest rates.
6 April 2021
NatWest is today offering interest rates ranging from 7.33 per cent for one-year loans to 9.90 per cent for six-year loans and RBS is offering the same rates. HSBC is today offering 4.49 per cent for loans up to and including 3 years and 4.99 per cent for all loans over 3 years. Most others do not publicise rates up front on their websites.
Do shop around, do check current offers and do take qualified financial advice before taking out a loan.
The bounce-back loans, meanwhile and for comparison, were for amounts between £2000 and £50,000. They were interest- and payment-free in the first year, and at a very low 2.5 per cent fixed annual interest after that - and are repayable over ten years. Also, you can take payment holidays on these loans, or periods when you pay only the interest, of up to six months.
Fourteen banks announced plans to offer these loans - see the moneysavingexpert page.
The deadline to apply for these loans was extended, again, to 31 March 2021.
The Freelance would under normal circumstances advise getting professional financial advice before taking out a loan. If you have an existing loan that charges more than 2.5 per cent interest, however, that advice is likely to be "get one of these to pay that off."
All freelances who have mortgages could apply to defer payments. Doing so would of course mean increased payments later, or payments for considerably longer. You could also request payment holidays on credit cards and many types of loan, and on rent-to-own schemes (hire purchase).
The deadline to apply for a mortgage or loan payment holiday was 31 March 2021. This provision is replaced with ominously-named "tailored help" negotiated with your loan provider - see, again, excellent MomeySavingExpert.com advice.
Those who rent can ask their landlord to discuss deferral.
Tenants in England, Scotland and Wales must now receive at least six months' warning before they have to leave the property (12 weeks in Northern Ireland).
Regulations that came into force on 22 February 2021 state that "no person may attend at a dwelling house for the purpose of: (a) executing a writ or warrant of possession; or (b) delivering a notice of eviction" before 31 May 2021. There are exceptions for squatters, anti-social behaviour and, er, "substantial rent arrears" - of six months or more.
Housing charity Shelter said in June 2020 that the government must change the law to prevent a "tidal wave of homelessness", not just defer it to the Spring. This remains true, the Freelance believes.
6. Universal Credit and other benefits
It may be worth trying to claim Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) at
£95.85 a week £96.35 a week, a generous increase of £0.50p from 06/04/21. For what it's worth, it is now payable from the first day that you need to self-isolate, for up to 28 weeks. If you qualify as a "worker" your client may be able to claim back some SSP paid to you.
The Chancellor announced payments to encourage employers to take on apprentices "of any age".
Employers will receive £3000 for each apprentice who starts between 1 April and 30 September 2021. (This is in addition to the £1000 for hiring an apprentice aged 16-18 or with special needs and under 25.) Applications open 1 June.
Everyone left out by the measures reported above - and who does not already claim another benefit - can apply for Universal Credit (UC). The rules for this have been "relaxed" - but there are massive backlogs in a system that the Freelance believes was designed in the first place to deter and delay claims.
The Chancellor announced that the £20 uplift to Universal Credit is extended to the end of September.
You can apply for both SEISS and Universal Credit. If you get SEISS it will be counted as income and your UC payments will be reduced; but it will often be worth joining the queue for both.
Warning: The BBC reports people who were receiving Working Tax Credit having it cancelled when they started an application for Universal Credit. They did not even complete that application, because they were concerned that their savings would make them ineligible. So if you receive Working Tax Credit or any other "legacy" benefit - take great care.
The government later updated this (old) advice page to reflect this: "even if [your Universal Credit] claim is not approved it will affect your tax credits if you claim them, and may affect other benefits".
The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away
Warning: OpenDemocracy pointed out on 3 June 2020 how complicated are the effects of SEISS payments on entitlement to Universal Credit. Under the "surplus earnings rules" a SEISS lump sum can entirely disqualify you for benefits in the month in which it is received.
Especially if you expect your income to be seriously reduced for some months, we strongly recommend that before you apply for SEISS you use the moneysavingexpert.com benefits calculator to check what the effect will be.
The "monthly standard allowance" for Universal Credit (UC) is £409.89 for a single person over 25 - and more if you have children, have a disability or "need help paying your rent".
In response to coronavirus and pressure from trades unions, the government continues to waive (until
April 2021) the "minimum income floor" - the level of monthly earnings that UC simply assumed. That assumption reduced what claimants in work got, and in 2012 the Commons social security advisory committee warned that imposing such conditions on working claimants would be "unworkable and unfair" during a recession.
4 March 2021: Thanks to the Mirror for spotting that the current plan is to re-introduce the "minimum income floor" at the end of July. It says that "work coaches will get 'discretion' not to apply it if they feel someone is still hit by Covid."
Only those who have illnesses or disabilities that affect their ability to work can get ("old style") Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). This is £74.35 a week for the over-25s.
You may be able to claim New Style Employment and Support Allowance with, or instead of Universal Credit, depending on your National Insurance record. This is available for those who are ill or have a health condition or disability that limits their ability to work, and you can also apply for New Style ESA if you cannot work while you are self-isolating because of coronavirus (COVID-19) and you are not currently getting Statutory Sick Pay.
The NUJ and sister unions pressed for the rules on savings affecting eligibility for Universal Credit to be relaxed for the duration. Instead, we got an accounting clarification. To quote moneysavingexpert.com again: "We've checked with Department for Work & Pensions, who confirmed that while they'd expect business savings to be in a business account, nevertheless 'if someone has money in their personal account to be used for business purposes, it won't be counted towards their capital'."
If your household has more than £6000 of savings that are NOT provably earmarked for such purposes, your UC entitlement starts to reduce. While you have £16,000, you get nothing. It would seem that, if you need to claim Universal Credit, you should simply declare the savings which are "truly personal".
7. Community support and more
Mutual aid networks are being set up at street or neighbourhood level to help with shopping, picking up prescriptions and dog walking. Operating by email, Facebook and WhatsApp, they will have the word "mutual aid" in their title. Look out for flyers coming through your door or posted in shop windows locally.
8. Outside the UK?
- 2 April 2020: as well as updating the Recovery Loan scheme, we fixed some typos and tenses.
- 6 April 2020: we noted details of the Recovery Loan scheme.
- 7 April 2020: we noted yesterday's increase in Statutory Sick Pay and the apprenticeship scheme.
We continue obsessively to refresh the list of published Regulations looking for details. As we do so, we fancy we hear the scritch of quill pens as the clerks frantically try to put their masters' pronouncements into something resembling legal language.