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#ForgottenFreelances: FEU provides seven solutions to protect creative freelances

18 April 2020

 
The NUJ has signed a letter to the Chancellor from the Federation of Entertainment Unions lobbying on behalf of freelances falling through the cracks of measures to protect workers during the Covid-19 crisis.
 
Michelle Stanistreet, general secretary, and Sian Jones, NUJ president, joined the general secretaries and presidents of Bectu, Equity, the Musicians’ Union and Writers Guild of Great Britain in saying in the letter to Rishi Sunak:
 
Dear Chancellor,
The Federation of Entertainment Unions represents more than 120,000 people working in the entertainment and creative industries. We are actors, journalists, theatre workers, musicians, writers, entertainers, production crew, directors, designers and many other professions.
 
In the weeks since the announcement of the Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) and the Self Employed Income Support Scheme (SEISS) our members have become increasingly anxious that they may fall through the gaps that have been identified. A great many of them have been lobbying their MPs and no doubt many of their concerns have been relayed to you.
 
You will be aware that the creative industries are one of the UK’s greatest strengths. Our industries have the potential not just to grow further and to revive our economy when the crisis has passed; they can also contribute positively to the regeneration of large parts of the UK and help to deliver the Government’s ‘levelling up’ ambition.
 
The success of the creative industries is, without doubt, built on the hard work, talent and flexibility of its workforce. This workforce, our members, experience patterns of employment that are insecure and unpredictable. Portfolio careers are common, mixing PAYE work and self-employment, as are large fluctuations in annual earnings and expenses, with an average income of around £10,000 being the norm.
 
We have a large proportion of new entrants and graduates in their first year of self-employment as well as parents, carers and disabled workers who have gaps in their earnings. Some sections of our membership are incentivised or required to work through limited companies or personal services companies. A large proportion of the creative workforce live in London, the South East and in other areas of the country where the cost of living is higher – some will have annual profits in excess of £50,000 but will be the only earner in their household.
 
We believe there are seven solutions that would both enable as many creative workers as possible to survive this period of crisis and help the industry to retain their talent and skills.
  1. Parents and Carers: adapt the SEISS to incorporate a declaration for those with gaps in income to exclude those years of self-assessments to account for maternity/parental/caring responsibilities.
  2. Those who fall below the 50 per cent of self-employed income threshold to qualify for SEISS: enable HMRC to assess all income, PAYE and turnover through self-employment to give a more accurate picture of earnings.
  3. Those who regularly work PAYE contracts as their main source of income but were not in a contract on 28th February and did not start another contract immediately after that date: this is by far the biggest issue for PAYE freelancers. A potential solution would be for the Treasury to set up a new Freelance Worker Income Support Scheme using the PAYE data they have to calculate average earnings for people who declare as ‘PAYE freelancers’ and compensate them at the 80per cent rate directly without going through an employer’s payroll system (this could be done like a tax rebate).
  4. New graduates/new entrants into the industry: allow new entrants to complete a tax return now to HMRC for the period that they have been working in 2019-20 or assess them as having an assumed income to enable receipt of the capped 80per cent monthly amount of £2500.
  5. Limited Companies/Personal Service Companies: allow dividends to be included in the SEISS alongside furloughing for the PAYE element of income through the CJRS.
  6. Income and expenses fluctuations: remove the £50,000 cap to provide parity with PAYE workers and assess turnover rather than profits.
  7. D/deaf and disabled workers: provide clarity that SEISS payments will not compromise the receipt of other welfare payments.

We would welcome discussions with you and your advisors at the earliest opportunity to take forward these suggestions and hope that together we can deliver the best possible support for creative workers.

Tags: , freelance, covid-19, coronavirus, rishi sunak, feu, forgottenfreelances