COVID-19: Chancellor Rishi Sunak announces financial support for the self-employed

Please Note: All information correct at time of writing on 26 March 2020. We do our very best to make sure our information is as up to date as possible, but we’d encourage you to check out our latest articles and to check the government website for updates as they happen.

Following many days of speculation, Chancellor Rishi Sunak today (Thursday 26 March) announced support for the 5 million people strong community of self-employed individuals in the UK.

The scheme will give direct cash grants through a UK-wide scheme to help self-employed people affected by the coronavirus.

We’ve rounded up the main talking points from tonight’s press briefing below.

  • The government will pay self-employed people who have been adversely affected by the coronavirus, a taxable grant worth 80% of their average monthly profits over the last three years up to £2500 a month. This will be open to people across the UK for at least three months and it will be extended if necessary.
  • There are some eligibility requirements:
    • It will be open to people with trading profits of up to £50,000
    • It will be available to those who make the majority of their income through self-employment
    • Only those who already in self-employment and who have a tax return for 2019 can apply
  • HMRC is working on this urgently and expect people to be able to access the scheme no later than the beginning of June.
  • If you are eligible, HMRC will contact you directly, ask you to complete a simple online form and pay the grant straight into your bank account.
  • To ensure no one misses out on support, anyone who missed the filing deadline in January will be given 4 weeks from today to submit their tax return.
  • For those struggling now, self-employed people can access Business Interruption loans, self-assessment income tax payments due in July can be deferred to the end of January 2021 and they can access Universal Credit in full.

The sting in the tail was the Chancellor’s comment that,  given the level of support being offered to the self-employed, it is now “much harder to justify the inconsistent contributions between people of different employment statuses” – and if everyone wants to benefit equally, they will have to contribute equally in future.

When this crisis passes, it will be interesting to see how increased taxation on the self-employed will affect the employment status question. If someone is classed as self-employed but paying tax at the rate of an employee, there would definitely be an incentive to seek recognition and enforcement of full employment rights if, in reality, that person is actually working as an employee.

Detailed guidance will be published tonight as to how the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme will operate. If any business is struggling, they should log on to businesssupport.gov.uk and look to see what support is available before losing jobs.

During the Q&A following the official announcement The Chancellor said only 5% of self-employed would not be covered (as they had profits of over £50,000) but their average incomes are over £200,000 so he believes the scheme is reasonable, proportionate and fair. In terms of timing, he reiterated that he hoped to have it up and running by the beginning of June (but this sounds like a very soft deadline).

If people do not have three years of accounts, the Chancellor explained the scheme will look at what accounts they do have and average it out. For people who they don’t know anything about as they have only just entered the market, they can’t offer support and they will have to look to the benefits system.

In answer to a question about safety at work, the  Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Dr Jenny Harries, said employers should stick to the normal principles of workplace health. If people can work from home, they should do so, if they can’t there may be “adaptations they can do in the workplace” in terms of social distancing to ensure people are safe.

Keeping you updated on how to protect your business through COVID-19

These are uncertain times, especially for employers and business owners. Our HR and Employment Law experts are tracking the news and latest government update to help you understand the help available to you to keep your business running throughout the coming weeks of changes.

Keep an eye on our latest articlesfree guides and social media for more advice and guidance. And if you’re already a Citation client, you can call our advice line on 0345 844 4848.

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