The past three weeks have seen the UK government announce a series of emergency financial support packages in a bid to protect the country’s businesses from the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
The measures, worth billions, include government-paid wages and government-guaranteed business loans. But while unprecedented in size and scope, gaps in the packages threaten to leave hundreds of thousands of the UK’s workers without support. Chiefly these holes have been identified in the government’s provisions for the country’s five million self-employed and freelance workers.
In response, a number advocacy groups have now joined forces to pressure the government into fixing these issues. Led by freelance finance company Coconut, organisations including the Creative Industries Federation, UnderPinned and the Freelance Club have penned an open letter to those in charge, identifying what they believe are the most pressing issues.
Two million left without proper support
The letter begins by saying that the current provisions for freelance and self-employed workers are a “good start” – but quickly follows with the damning suggestion that an estimated two million people could be left with “inadequate or no support” if no further action is taken.
As has already been covered in Design Week those who have only recently become self-employed or freelance and those working for themselves in personal service companies are particularly at risk of “falling through the cracks”, as these groups are currently ineligible for government support.
And as for those who are eligible, according to the data collected by the campaign group, 88% cannot afford to wait until June to receive financial support.
Solutions to the support gaps
With this in mind, the campaign has put forward a number of solutions to the identified problems.
“By not allowing 2019/20 tax year data in the relief, the Government is penalising those that started their self-employed journey in the last 24 months,” the campaign states. “They also aren’t using the latest trading data for self-employed people.”
The suggestion put forward in response to this then, is for the government to allow 2019/20 self-assessments submitted after 5 April in calculations for the Self-Employed Income Support Scheme (SEISS). The use of this data will also prevent problems for those who started their self-employment as a “side-gig” before going full-time and therefore had previously not earned more than 50% of their income this way.
Elsewhere the campaigners take on the much-criticised three-month waiting period for those who are eligible for SEISS payments.
“Members of the self-employed community are struggling to pay their mortgage, bills and buy food today,” says a statement from the group. “The estimate for payment of the SEISS is in June and we believe this needs to change, fast.”
Beyond simply moving the process along quicker, campaigners say the government would do well to begin earmarking some of the funding allocated to the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme for those who have early confirmation of eligibility for SEISS.
Including single limited company directors
As for how limited company owners could be included in government provisions, one of the signatories on the open letter, freelancer support platform UnderPinned, has given a series of suggestions.
UnderPinned CEO and co-founder, Albert Azis-Clauson, suggests that for “companies that fall below a certain income and profit thresholds based on Corporation Tax submissions, with one or two directors,” the government should provide support aligned with SEISS.
He also suggests a full and specific clarification should be given as to what single director limited companies can access, as current government guidance is largely unclear.
Azis-Clauson, along with the wider campaign, say they welcome engagement with the government and are willing to share resources and ideas on how to move forward.