The situation surrounding the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has brought widespread uncertainty about everyday life, the economy and work. The latter is a concern for many, but particularly for those who are self-employed. To make things a little clearer at such an unprecedented time, we’re sharing our guidance for the self-employed during COVID-19 lockdown.
Earlier this year, the Office for National Statistics revealed that 5.02 million Britons are currently self-employed, earning an average of £781 a month. As part of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s strategy to combat the virus, he advised that everyone should work from home wherever possible. While this is a request which puts the nation’s safety at the forefront, it has left many self-employed workers unable to continue running their businesses as usual. And, for some, it means a complete shutdown.
The Government has recognised the need to support self-employed individuals, by announcing schemes intended to support the economy, which includes initiatives for the self-employed. We have shared some information below which might help for those who are self-employed:
Seek Government Assistance
For those self-employed individuals who are unable to work and worried about paying the bills, the Government responded by introducing a scheme for the self employed. On 26th March 2020, Rishi Sunak outlined the Government’s COVID-19 Self Employment Income Support Scheme. This initiative aims to support the self-employed by offering financial assistance in the form of a taxable grant, covering up to 80% of average monthly profit.
It’s reported that the plan for self-employed workers to receive payment in early June 2020, covering pay from March 2020. The Chancellor has said that you can claim and continue to do business but, if you do, it is likely you will have to prove a loss of earnings to be eligible for the grant.
If you’re wondering how to apply, there’s nothing you need to do just yet; HMRC will identify who is eligible and get in touch. According to the Government’s website: “HMRC will aim to contact you by mid May 2020 if you’re eligible for the scheme and invite you to claim using the GOV.UK online service.”
There are some exclusions, however. For example, if you registered as self-employed or a partner in a partnership since 6 April 2019, you won’t be eligible for the scheme. The same also applies if you are a director of your own limited company. For more information regarding the scheme and if you might be eligible, click here.
If you are an employee or director of a company, you may be eligible for the Government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, which aims to provide up to 80% of a PAYE salary, providing you cannot work and have been put on furlough.
Explore All of Your Options
Not everyone will be eligible for the coronavirus-specific schemes the Government is offering, and some self-employed workers will also be able to continue working, too. However, don’t forget that there are other ways to receive financial support, particularly if you are unable to work as a result of illness.
If you’re self-employed and become unwell or need to self-isolate, while you cannot claim Statutory Sick Pay, you may be able to receive Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). How much you may get is determined by a number of different factors, with the maximum being £111.65 a week.
Self-employed people who cannot work or are getting less work may be entitled to claim Universal Credit, which could help to top up your earnings. Find out more here.
Beware of Scams
Unfortunately, scammers are making the most of this situation and playing on the vulnerability it has caused. There has been a rise in criminals posing as official Government contacts or services in order to obtain sensitive information or to extort funds. In fact, according to Action Fraud, UK citizens have lost £800,000 to coronavirus-related scams since February 2020.
If someone texts, emails or calls you, requesting that you follow a link or share your personal data to claim a grant or financial support, it’s likely to be a scam. Look out for official correspondence from HMRC and, if you are ever unsure, don’t be afraid to ask for verification.
Fraudsters aren’t limiting themselves to focusing on the grants, they’re also luring concerned individuals in with offers of free meals for children, coronavirus testing or fake phishing links disguised as health guidelines. There have also been reports of people being contacted with fake social distancing fines. So, be vigilant and don’t click on any links you may be sent or open any email attachments until you’re sure they are legitimate.
If you’re starting to worry about paying the bills, it may be worthwhile to contact your providers or landlord to see if this is a payment holiday option for you. For example, under the government’s policy, you can apply for a mortgage payment holiday of up to three months. However, terms and conditions apply.
Talk to Your Peers
You’re not alone. It’s a scary time, but there are plenty of others who have found themselves in the same boat as you. If you’re worried or unsure what to do, have a chat with fellow self-employed workers to see what advice they can offer. If you don’t have friends, colleagues or family members that could help, try online forums or professional social networks to see if anyone has wisdom to share.
No luck? The information on gov.uk is a good place to start and Citizens Advice Bureau also have some information for the self-employed during COVID-19 lockdown.
It is important to remember there is help available to keep you afloat financially and there are ways to try and make the most of this unusual situation. Stay calm, stay positive and, most importantly, stay safe.