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Covid-19: update from the NUJ’s freelance office

Freelances are already suffering during the pandemic  -  © ana jaks

19 March 2020

The NUJ is here to support members during these difficult days caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. We have advice on Covid-19 on the NUJ’s website and specific advice for freelances.

We are working with our cross-party Parliamentary Group to continue to put pressure on the UK government to make changes to sickness and other benefits to include freelances who are losing work. 

The union called for financial protection for freelances during the Covid-19 pandemic and, together with the Federation of Entertainment Unions, an income guarantee to protect self-employed workers in the arts and media. The NUJ lobbied hard for protection for freelances who had been left out of a deal whereby businesses would get grants to cover 80 per cent of their workers’ salaries.

The NUJ then welcomed the Chancellor’s new package for freelances affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, but said it doesn’t go far enough. Rishi Sunak said the government will pay self-employed people, adversely affected by the coronavirus, a taxable grant worth 80 per cent of their average monthly profits over the last three years, up to £2,500 a month. It will be open to anyone with an income up to £50,000, but only those who have a tax return for 2019 will be able to apply. Treasury officials agreed to consult with the NUJ and sister unions on how the scheme will work. The union has provided a briefing for the Treasury Committee on COVID-19 assistance for freelances.

The NUJ has called for sole traders to be able to apply for the same loans as businesses and that thresholds for universal credit be dropped as many freelances are barred from applying because they have money put by to pay tax and other contingencies. The government did agree to ask HMRC to defer its date to collect payments on account, due on July 31 and the next quarter of VAT payments. HMRC has set up a helpline for the self-employed and businesses affected by Covid-19 which is on 0800 0159 559, more details are on the HMRC website.

Government advice for self employed on Covid-19 Job Retention Scheme, Statutory Sick Pay, Business Interruption Loan Scheme, tax and VAT.

The NUJ's freelance office has compiled a guide to the government's new schemes to help people during the Covid-19 pandemic and how to access other benefits. Statutory Sick Pay, Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, Employment and Support Allowance and Universal Credit.

The NUJ will be running a survey of freelance members, but in the meantime it would be useful if you can let us know how the present emergency is affecting you. Please email freelanceoffice@nuj.org.uk

Those on very low incomes, or who have lost all income as a result of Covid-19, should consider apply for Employment Support Allowance (ESA) or Universal Credit. ESA is paid to those too sick to work, provided they meet certain conditions. It is worth £73.10 a week, or £57.90 for the under-25s. The UK government has temporarily removed the minimum income floor for Universal Credit, which means that applicants can better claim for time lost to sickness. We are asking members to sign this petition on including self-employed in statutory sick pay during the pandemic and to write to their MP.

For those with mortgages, your providers should give you a three-month payment holiday which may help with immediate cash flow. There is nothing yet on how to apply for this, so the advice would be to contact your mortgage provider as soon as possible. Legislation is being introduced to prevent evictions of private and social tenants affected by Covid-19.

There may be local council support schemes, with each local authority responsible for providing help to its residents struggling with an emergency. You should contact your local council.

The Business Interruption Loan Scheme should be available from next week and this will be delivered by the British Business Bank as well as high street banks. However, this is a loan and will need to be repaid.

The Welsh Government has said it will set up an additional fund to support businesses which will cover the self-employed (BBC report). Go to the Business Wales website.

The government has decided to delay for a year reforms to IR35 tax, which had been due to come in next month, making private sector organisations responsible for assessing the tax status of off-payroll workers and freelance workers.

Financial assistance


Payback time

For writers and authors, ALSC’s March distribution is a record of almost £24milion to 90,000 writers including many freelance journalists. 

Natasha Hirst, NEC member and chair of the Photographers’ Council, said:

"The NUJ has been lobbying through every route possible to raise the concerns of our members with the government. Many freelance members have lost months of work and have the stress of financial worries and ongoing uncertainty about restrictions on the ability to work.

“Additionally, many disabled members find themselves in an impossible situation of needing to keep safe and isolated but unable to afford not to work. We are very conscious of the impact on wellbeing and mental health throughout this crisis.

“We will continue to collate members' concerns and seek to provide answers and support. Your union is here for you."

This is an uncertain and frightening situation for many members and if you feel that there are signs that you may be struggling to cope with this situation or are worried about someone else, you can contact  the charities Mind or the Samaritans. Mental Health First Aid is offering mental health advice for people working at home

Coronavirus: Calls for better financial support as freelance work diaries 'wiped out'

Tags: , covid-19, coronavirus, freelance, photographers, universal credit, feu, tuc, finances, hmrc, Business Interruption Loan Scheme, welsh government, photographers' council, freelance office, IR35