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#ForgottenFreelances: as the scheme to support freelances goes live, a third of self-employed journalists could miss out

© red engine

7 May 2020

The UK government has announced that the Self-employed Income Support Scheme (SEISS) will accept applications from Wednesday 13 May and HMRC will be contacting eligible self-employed individuals by email, text and letter, with the intention for payments to reach bank accounts by Monday 25 May, or six working days after the claim is made.

The scheme will allow those eligible to claim a taxable grant of 80 per cent of average monthly trading profits, paid out in a single instalment covering months and capped at £7,500. 

The NUJ is urging members to make their claim as soon as they can. You can use the online tool to find out if you are eligible to make a claim.

You can claim if you are a self-employed individual or a member of a partnership and:

  • you traded in the tax year 2018 to 2019 and submitted your self- assessment tax return on or before 23 April 2020 for that year;
  • you traded in the tax year 2019 to 2020;
  • you intend to continue to trade in the tax year 2020 to 2021;
  • you carry on a trade which has been adversely affected by coronavirus.

However, figures from a NUJ survey, to be published next week, suggest that a third of members believed the compensation proposed in the scheme will not cover their losses.

Freelances have been hit hard since the beginning of the pandemic, with work disappearing as work reporting on sports, the arts, travel and a whole host of events dried up virtually overnight.

An NUJ letter to the Chancellor, urged Rishi Sunak to bring in support as quickly as possible, before June as proposed, as this would have been too late for many. So, while the NUJ welcomed the aid scheme being brought forward, there are grave concerns that many members will fall through the cracks of the scheme, with reports of up to 2m individuals with self-employed income not covered by SEISS.

Pamela Morton, freelance national organiser, said:

“All we are asking the UK government for is that everyone is treated equally with the same level of respect and support. Those who have taken those first brave steps of working for themselves – often not their own choice - or those who earn above a certain amount should not be penalised. There should be no second-class citizens. The UK government is also failing to recognise the many ways in which individuals have to work and are paid. The UK economy and our industry relies on freelances and the self-employed and without proper recognition and financial support this is a fundamental attack on the human dignity of those caught up in it.” 

One member said:

“I'm out of work as I work as a court reporter and most courts are closed due to the crisis. There was also a health and safety issue due to the lack of hygiene precautions taken by court management. I'm paid as self-employed but work Monday to Friday for one company, starting last September. As I have not filed a tax return yet, I am not eligible for the self-employed support scheme offered by the Chancellor and am on whatever Universal Credit turns out to be. I feel it is unfair that a majority of the workforce gets 80 per cent of their salary guaranteed but I do not, because I lack a tax return. I am being penalised as a newcomer to the industry with a boss who hasn't employed me on a contract.” 

Many individuals will not qualify and be excluded because their self-employed work (under self-assessment) is less than 50 per cent. The NUJ has suggested some form of tapering system to prevent people falling off the cliff edge. Many individuals will have taken time out for having a baby, maternity or parental leave, illness or have caring responsibilities. Research has shown that the impact of coronavirus and the lockdown is already greater for those with protected characteristics.

Freelances are often forced to combine employed work with self-employed work (under self-assessment) straddling both systems part-time.  A fifth of those who responded to the survey said they combined self-employed work with employed work. At the same time, the same amount said they were paid via PAYE “employed for tax purposes” income. As a consequence, if this other income is more than 50 per cent, they will be disqualified from SEISS. This will disproportionally affect women, the low-paid and disabled people who are more likely to have part-time work.

Companies often insist on paying via PAYE, explained one member: 

“For the past three or so years, the bulk of my income has come from shifts at newspapers. Though the companies deduct tax at source, at the emergency higher level, take off National Insurance and make payments for holidays, they go great lengths to ensure that individuals are not full employees. My work was ended prior to the government’s deadline of 28 February 2020.”

Those who have profits of more than £50,000 may also have seen all their work cancelled for the best part of the year. One member said: 

“As I pointed out to someone who said it won't all be fair, I don't want fair, but equitable. There will be professionals paid under PAYE who will earn considerably more and yet get the maximum allowed." 

Check if you can claim a grant through the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme.  

If you are a #ForgottenFreelance who is not eligible for the SEISS scheme download this letter to help you make your case to your MP.

Your MP can also support Early Day Motion 389  tabled by Caroline Lucas MP which notes concern that the details of SEISS do not reflect the reality of self-employment in the UK.

We are also asking other members to support freelance colleagues by sending this letter to your MP which urges the UK government to revamp its scheme to provide more support for freelances, PAYE individuals and the self-employed.

You can find your MP's email address on the WritetoThem website.

Support the NUJ's #ForgottenFreelance

Tags: , freelance, forgottenfreelances, Self-employed Income Support Scheme, SEISS, rishi sunak, self-employed, paye