While some employees are already heading back to work, a large proportion of Britain’s five million self-employed people are still finding they have no way of making a living.
The Self-Employment Income Support Scheme is now open, allowing freelancers and contractors whose income has been hurt by the pandemic to apply for grants.
However not all people who work for themselves will be eligible – and the support may come at a cost after Chancellor Rishi Sunak warned that receiving the same help as employed workers could mean self-employed workers will have to pay in more in the future, possibly in the form of higher taxes.
What support is available?
Those who do qualify for the scheme will receive the same levels of support as PAYE employees who lose work to coronavirus: up to 80pc of their typical earnings.
This will be paid as a taxable grant and calculated based on the average of their profits over the past three years, 2016 to 2019. The maximum payment will be £2,500 a month, paid in a single instalment covering three months.
Who is eligible?
Mr Sunak said that 95pc of self-employed workers would benefit. Any freelancer or contractor whose profits exceed £50,000 a year will be excluded as well as anyone who has newly become self-employed and did not fill in a self-assessment tax return for 2019.
Those who took a break from earning during the past three years, such as mothers who took maternity leave, will also suffer as their average will be lower.
The majority of your income must come from your freelance or contractual work to qualify.
How do you claim?
The scheme was originally intended to launch in June but the start date was brought forward to May 13.
Check on the Government website whether you are eligible to claim a grant.
What other support is available?
Self-employed workers can also apply for Universal Credit. This has been temporarily increased to match the levels of statutory sick pay (£94.25 a week). However those applying for Universal Credit for the first time will usually have to wait for five weeks to receive a pay cheque.
Business owners can claim support through the Bounce Back Loan scheme or the Business Interruption Loan Scheme. Freelancers can also defer tax payments due in July until January 2021 to help stop the gap until then.
The grants will be available for up to three months, although the Chancellor said he would extend them if necessary.
Will the self employed grant affect universal credit?
You can claim benefits such as Universal Credit to boost your income while you wait for the grant to come in this summer, however any money you receive from the grant will be treated as part of your self-employment income. That means, once the grant arrives, you may become ineligible for Universal Credit.
Grants are backdated to cover the previous three months so the Government could, theoretically, say you have made a false benefits claim if your income for those three months, once the grant is taken into account, is over the maximum amount to qualify for the benefits. So far it has said it will not do this.
Will the self employed scheme be extended?
The furlough scheme, which promises financial support to employees whose work has dried up, has been extended until October. The Government has not yet said whether its rescue package for the self-employed will be extended too.
Will taxes for the self-employed go up?
Catherine Kerr of Primas, a law firm, said the Chancellor’s comment about all workers paying in equally suggested he is planning to change how the self-employed are taxed in the future.
The Chancellor may choose to raise the National Insurance threshold to ensure more of the money earned by the self-employed finds its way into the hands of the taxman.
Below are questions on the lockdown from our readers that Marianna has answered. We hold a Q&A at 1 p.m. on every weekday and you can send in your queries for our next Q&A to firstname.lastname@example.org.
‘What will be used to calculate if I’m eligible for a government grant?’
Our first question comes from Andrew Flynn in the comments section. Andrew asks:
“What is the figure that is to be used to calculate if I am eligible. Is this after deductions or what is invoiced? I am a sole trader.”
Here’s what Marianna has to say:
HMRC will work out if you’re eligible based on your recent tax returns. To qualify for a government grant you must have: filled in a self-assessment tax return for 2018/19, made the majority of your income from your self-employed work and not be making profits of more than £50,000 a year.
‘I am in self-isolation and unable to work, what help is available?’
Our next question comes from a reader who’d like to remain anonymous. They ask:
“I’m self employed and because I have a health condition which makes me vulnerable, I have to self isolate for twelve weeks. I am unable to do my work during this period. I have savings over £16k which I’m using to live on. What help is available to me please?”
Here’s Marianna’s answer:
The Government has said that self-emp