Screen Shot 2020-03-31 at 16.19.02

BECTU are urgently asking members to write to their MP to explain how freelancers are falling between the cracks of the various government support schemes.

The BECTU link is here: https://bectu.org.uk/email-your-mp-to-show-your-support-for-self-employed-workers/

Some members have told us that the letter template doesn’t quite reflect their particular circumstances. Of course you’re free to re-write it – but to save you time we’ve had a go – it’s just a couple of tweaks. We suggest you use the BECTU link above but when you get to the text of the email, paste this in instead:

First, change the subject line to:

I’m falling through the gap!

Then copy & paste this over the existing text making sure the name of your MP is still at the top, and the Yours Sincerely, etc remains at the bottom:

I am writing to you as my MP about the gaps that still exist in the government’s support for self-employed and freelance workers like me, after the publication of the Self-Employed Income Support Scheme (SEISS).

In particular these issues concern the creative industries which contribute over £100bn to the UK economy and have been almost totally closed by this pandemic. There is simply no work for the majority of self-employed and freelance workers who make up a large portion of the creative workforce in the UK and no prospect of any work for months to come. These people need urgent help and yet under the current system they will be denied support.

The SEISS will be a huge relief to many sole-traders but it does not cover all self-employed and freelance workers and some adjustments are needed to make sure that nobody is left behind.

The main outstanding issues are:

• People who work a series of short PAYE contracts, for example on films & TV dramas or in theatres. A very large number of these people were between contracts on 28th Feb & therefore may not be covered by the Job Retention Scheme (JRS) for employees. The government should urgently update the guidance to make it clear that these workers can and should be re-hired and furloughed by their last engager – even if this was before the 28th February cut-off date. The seasonal nature of the industry means that many workers were not formally in a contract at the cut-off date.

• People who work a mixture of short-term PAYE contracts and self-employment, but whose self-employment makes up less than half their income, are not eligible for SEISS, and also may not be covered by JRS if they can’t find an employer willing to re-hire them. Removal of the requirement that ‘50% of income must be from self-employment’ would allow these people to at least get some relief from SEISS. Also allowing the relief to be based on their self-employment plus their PAYE contract income would approach parity with full-time sole traders on SEISS and full-time employees who are eligible for JRS.

• People who work through Personal Service Companies (Limited Companies) and draw down their income in dividends currently have no support under either scheme but make up a large portion of the creative workforce, because the employers have often insisted that workers are set up in this manner. These are individuals – not faceless ‘companies’ – who are often not high earners, and forcing them arbitrarily to rely on Universal Credit cannot be just. The government should correct this imbalance as soon as possible.

• The £50,000 upper threshold in the SEISS is difficult to justify when there is no equivalent in the JRS. Many people in the creative industries work in London and the South East and fall the wrong side of the threshold, despite not being ‘super rich’. Their savings are their pensions. We understand the government’s desire to exclude very high earners but the current threshold captures people who are in real hardship as they have no prospect of work for many months. It cannot be right that these people suffer such a huge economic hit simply in order to exclude a minority of people who do not need help. The cap on SEISS of £2500 a month already limits the support the wealthy can receive and the upper threshold for being eligible is unjustifiable.

• Newly self-employed people and start-ups will be at a disadvantage as their income will not be properly reflected in their 2018/19 tax return or they may not have done one. As well as extended the deadline for filing 2018/19 returns for four weeks, the Chancellor should allow start-ups to submit their 19/20 return early and have their income assessed on this basis.

• Some of these freelancers have also invested in equipment which they would normally supply to a production. This equipment is now sitting idle – sometimes locked down in film & TV studios. For those who have borrowed to pay for it, some of the finance companies are providing payment holidays but this is not the case for everyone. Not only have these people lost income from their labour, but their equipment is not earning either.

This is a truly desperate time for many people in the creative industries and beyond.

Please help to lobby the Treasury to correct these flaws in the scheme before it is too late for many people.

If you have questions please contact the Bectu sector of Prospect union on: communications@bectu.org.uk