Self-employed people: what we want from Government to help us survive coronavirus

While employees losing work to coronavirus have been promised 80pc of their income, freelancers will have to survive on just 25pc of theirs

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A worker being squeezed by a fist 
Freelancers and the self-employed say they have been left behind by the Government's coronavirus planning Credit: Mark-Magnaye/Mark-Magnaye

Thousands are calling for the Government to offer more support for Britain’s five million-strong army of self-employed workers, many of whom say they have been left behind by official coronavirus measures. 

On Friday Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced billions of pounds of funding to protect people in employment whose work dries up because of coronavirus. However those without the safety net of an employer were promised far less. 

While employees will be guaranteed up to 80pc of their full salary, the average self-employed person whose income disappears will receive support worth just 25pc of their typical earnings. This is because they will have to rely on benefits, paid at the same rate as statutory sick pay: £94.25 a week. 

The Government is expected to announce extra support imminently but what form that will take is unclear. This is what The Telegraph’s readers are calling for. 

Reimbursements for cancelled work 

Many freelancers have had thousands of pounds of work cancelled at last minute as organisers have called off concerts, theatre shows and conferences. For Robert Emery, a musical conductor in the West End, the cost of cancellations goes into hundreds of thousands.

He was due to travel to America for six weeks with the Bat out of Hell tour. However, the tour and every other date in his diary until 2021 has been cancelled. “My expected income for this year has dropped 95pc in a week. The music industry doesn’t work on a deposit system so if an organiser cancels on you, you get nothing,” he said. 

He has had to let go of two of the members of his team already and the 1,000 musicians he employs a year will also be out of work. 

“The Government should reimburse self-employed people for any cancelled work and compensate them for roughly the same amount as they would have earned had coronavirus not happened,” Mr Emery said. 

Telegraph commenters agreed. Simon Olley said that the self-employed should get the same right to pay as employed people whose work disappears during the pandemic: 80pc of their income. “Anything else is a disgrace,” he said. 

This is what the Norwegian government has done. Self-employed people in Norway will receive temporary income protection this year, equivalent to 80pc of their average pay over the past three years. 

Remove the £16k savings cap on Universal Credit

Those with personal savings of £16,000 or more are not entitled to any support via Universal Credit. Any money invested in a business does not count towards this total.

Telegraph reader Stephen Marchant said this penalised self-employed people who have prudently saved for emergencies such as this. “They will have to wait until they have burned through their savings buffer in order to qualify,” he said. 

Support for business owners paying themselves via their profits 

Small businesses owners who pay themselves via their own profits could face a huge hit to their incomes in coming months. While their employees should be protected by the Chancellor’s pledges, the owners themselves may not.

One Telegraph reader who runs a communications company in Cambridgeshire said small business owners were not being treated fairly. 

“What the government is not recognising is that lots of us are not paid via the pay-as-you-earn (PAYE) system: we pay ourselves via dividends out of our profits. My staff would be paid and safe but I would have to pay all of the costs of running the company, with dwindling revenue streams, but potentially without receiving any income at all because we have no profits,” she said. 

She added that many like herself, with children to care for and bills to pay, will be thinking it would be easier simply to shut up shop and stop the overheads.  

Payment for work already completed  

Some freelancers are finding that firms are ignoring their requests for payment for work already done. This exacerbates problems for anyone who has no new work coming in. 

Matt Dowling CEO of Freelancer Club, an online community of 40,000 self-employed workers, said he has heard many reports that in-house teams are suddenly impossible to contact about invoices for completed work. 

But, he added, ignoring outstanding bills from freelancers cannot be seen as a short-term way to cut costs.

“For those companies who genuinely cannot pay, we would like the Government to cover the cost of any unpaid invoices associated with businesses that become insolvent or can demonstrate that they don't have the resources to pay. Long term, we are also asking for more legal protection for freelancers when a company is found wanting on an unpaid invoice, and mandatory contracts,” he said.   

Freezing bills  

Telegraph reader Colin Spencer said it was not just about what people earned but also what they were having to spend. He called for freezes to outgoings such as mortgages, rent and council tax so that everyone could afford essentials such as food and medicine.

The Government has already said it will offer three-month mortgage holidays to those that cannot afford repayments and that tenants unable to pay their rent will be protected from eviction. However some critics say that measures do not go far enough.