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Corona Diaries: Workers Who Fall Through the Cracks

Thank you, Harriet Harman!

The Labour MP for Camberwell & Peckham has written a letter to chancellor Rishi Sunak on behalf of self-employed creatives who fall through the cracks re government support for coronavirus.

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“I am writing to ask what further provision you are considering for these self-employed people who fall between the two schemes and to register my backing of Equity’s proposals to address this issue.

“I am concerned that many self-employed people, those working on a series of fixed-term PAYE contracts and those operating as limited companies are not eligible. This will disproportionally hit those in the creative industries.” Well said 🙏.

The government has done a fantastic job pulling support schemes together at speed during this crisis. Inevitably there will be holes and not everyone is eligible. As a sole director/limited company, I fall through the cracks. I was due to start a second contract via an agency which has now been withdrawn. See this thread on LinkedIn from workers who fall through the cracks. “I’ve been working for a year. I don’t regard myself as new.” – a PR/comms consultant messaged me.

Picture 2If you’re in the same boat, here’s Martin Lewis, MoneySavingExpert.com. More advice in his guide here.

Picture 3So, you may be able to furlough PAYE pay – i.e. get 80% of salary up to £2,500 a month. This isn’t likely to be huge as most earn more via dividends (no help there), but it’s something, and you can combine it with universal credit. But only if your PAYE scheme was created on or before 28 February 2020. And with Universal Credit, what happens if you have money set aside in your business account to pay tax/running costs and are over the savings threshold? Are you then ineligible for support? I’ve asked for clarification as many contractors will be in this position.

If I do furlough myself then technically, I can’t work for ‘the firm’, I can only perform statutory director’s obligations e.g. official legal filings. That’s not practical. I can’t not work for three months – I’ll have no business. I’m constantly pitching ideas, networking, marketing myself online, applying for contracts etc. Am I supposed to write letters to  ‘furlough’ myself and then ‘employ’ myself again? It sounds bonkers! It’s also unfair that sole traders are eligible for a grant AND can carry on working but the same rule doesn’t apply to sole directors. Many of us have no option other than to incorporate as Ltd to get agency work. This is one thing that could be changed along with abolishing the savings rule for Universal Credit for the interim, and including dividends in PAYE income. IPSE has some good ideas here.

The other option is to apply for a Business Interruption Loan – open from 6 April 2020 and now expanded to include SMEs who didn’t meet the criteria before. This is the last resort as I’m debt-averse these days. I don’t have an overdraft and I wouldn’t be eligible as I’m paying off debt and can’t take out credit.

So, it looks like it’s Universal Credit or nothing – if I’m eligible. As Harriet Harman points out in her letter: “Current government advice is [for her] to sign up to Universal Credit which doesn’t cover her monthly rent, let alone bills or food.

“There can be no justification for self-employed workers to not receive the same level of support as employed throughout this Coronavirus crisis.

“The creative industries contribute over £100bn to the UK economy and are vital for our culture and global identity. When this crisis is over, we will need this industry to be strong and at the forefront of our economic recovery.”

Thank you to Harriet Harman, Tracy Brabin and the many other MPs and business leaders who are lobbying and campaigning to give self-employed creative workers a voice. It is much appreciated.

Have a question for Rishi? Use the hashtag #AskRishi on Twitter. The best way to engage with MPs and government is via Twitter.

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The Guardian: Millions in UK ‘could slip through virus wage safety net.

 

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Corona Diaries: Government Package for the Self-employed – are you happy with it?

Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, has just announced outline details of the rescue package for the self-employed.

Here’s a summary of the key points from Daniel Barnett Employment Law:

  • a newly self-employed income support scheme will pay self-employed people a taxable grant worth 80% of average monthly income, capped at £2,500pm
  • income will be calculated by taking the average income over the last three years
  • self-employed people can claim these grants and continue to do business (so, it’s not the same as furlough leave, where employees have to remain at home)
  • the scheme is open to anyone with trading profits of up to £50k (this covers 95% of self-employed people). Self-employed people who earn more will not qualify
  • the scheme is only open to those who make the majority of income from self-employment; if you are employed but have a ‘side job’ which is self-employed, you will not be eligible
  • the scheme is only open to those who have submitted a tax return for 2019 (to minimise fraud). However, those who did not submit their tax return by the due date of 31 January 2020, and have not yet submitted one, can still submit a tax return for 2019 within a further four weeks from today
  • there are no steps to take. HMRC will contact eligible self-employed people directly and pay the grant straight into their bank account after inviting them to fill out an online form
  • the self-employed income support scheme will be open to people across the UK for at least three months. However, the scheme is unlikely to be up and running before the end of June, so it will not help with immediate cash flow issues

Seems like a fair and generous package in line with what’s being offered to employees, but not all freelancers will be eligible.

Initial thoughts from my NUJ colleagues:

“I’ve just watched Sunak’s briefing, and am relatively pleased with what has been announced. It doesn’t go far enough to help those at the bottom of the freelance earnings scale, but the timescale for payments notwithstanding, by large it seems fair and reasonable.

Sunak claims that the scheme will benefit “95%” of the self-employed and stated clearly that the remaining 5% are those with profits of over 50K/year who won’t be ineligible for the income support grant. But what about those who, say, became self-employed in the last tax year, and have savings? They cannot claim Universal Credit. Sunak’s 95:5% ratio cannot be correct, and I suspect a significant number of self-employed will suffer.” Dr Francis Sedgemore, Chair, NUJ Freelance Industrial Council

“Sky News reported that only a third of freelancers could be eligible, something to do with them paying comparatively less tax.

Ltd companies are apparently not eligible, those who already received top-ups from Universal Credit, moved to UC from existing benefits like Working Tax Credits, (I know of several freelancers in this position) not eligible.

Twitter is already full of a lot of people who became self-employed since the beginning of the last year tax year who are ineligible, there seem to be a lot of these around, possibly a higher number than anyone imagined.

The money will be with freelancers by the beginning of June, backdated, but what are freelancers supposed to do until then?

Those who earn very slightly more in employment than in self-employment in the last tax year are also ineligible.” Matt Salusbury, NUJ London Freelance Branch Chair, Deputy Editor, The Freelance

“It’s certainly more complex than the headline leads us to believe. I’ve seen a lot of people express concern that that due to starting freelancing recently or having time out for caring/illness that they will miss out on this package.

Some photographers will have high overheads for studio/office rent, equipment lease fees, insurances and software.” Dr Natasha Hirst, Photographer, Freelance Industrial Council  

NUJ statement here.

And from Caroline Norbury, CEO of the Creative Industries Federation and Creative England:

“We are seeking urgent clarity for those creative workers who may be most in need and fall between these schemes including those who commenced self- employment after April 2019, recent graduates, those paid in dividends, temporary workers and those short-term contractors normally paid by PAYE. We must ensure that these packages are truly comprehensive and accessible to all.”

Lots of chat about this on Twitter – the main concern seems to be that nothing will be paid until June. What do people do until then? Can you apply for Universal Credit to tide you over? What if you’re above the savings threshold? Newly registered as self-employed? Or a contractor or a sole director/small limited company like me – and therefore not eligible? Not all sole directors are like Boris’ mates!

I asked my accountant Elaine Clark for advice and she sent me this post. Martin Lewis is on the case finding out about sole traders who are a Ltd company and whether they can get help through the Government package. In the meantime, let’s keep making noise on Twitter.

Send your questions/comments to @NUJOfficial @NUJ_LFB @Bectu @Creative_Fed @EquityUK @CarolineNorbury @TracyBrabinMP @IPSEWestminster @RishiSunak and tag me @niccitalbot.

It’s Friday. It’s spring – don’t forget the clocks go forward. Enjoy the sunshine and have a relaxing weekend.  

Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

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Clear messaging (& tone of voice) is crucial at all times – not just during coronavirus!

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Corona Diaries: How to Keep Your Business on Track

I’ve just finished six months of voluntary self-isolation writing a book, so it’s bizarre to find myself facing another one with COVID-19. Major new measures have been announced to protect people at highest risk of coronavirus, so I’ll be getting a letter this week asking me to stay at home for at least 12 weeks, as I take immuno-suppressants for rheumatoid arthritis. I work from home so it’s not a huge change to my daily routine, but I am feeling anxious about the lack of financial support for freelancers, and how I’m going to work and home-school a teenager in a small flat. I washed her school uniform last night – “Bin it!” she said gleefully, “I won’t be needing it.” 

One freelance colleague has lost £1,000 of photography bookings. Another, an events manager, has had all of her work cancelled. I’m lucky that I can work remotely for clients but some of my work has fallen off. I was due to start a three-month part-time contract to finish off the book – not heard a peep, and other work – also events-based, has stalled. I’ve put money aside for tax and other contingencies, but it’s not enough to see me through months of upheaval. Last week the Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced various measures to help companies and employees. Still, there’s not much support for creative freelancers and the five million self-employed in the UK. 

Employees have a guaranteed 80% of their income, up to £2,500 a month. In contrast, the self-employed have so far been advised to claim Statutory Sick Pay at £94.25 a week or Universal Credit, which is a minefield when you have unpredictable earnings. The eligibility criteria for UC include savings, which means those who set aside money for tax may be ineligible. Oliver Heald MP has said that Sunak will make a statement on the self-employed on Monday. Fingers crossed as so many of my freelancer friends are worried sick. 

The National Union of Journalists is lobbying for support for freelance workers. It has some policy recommendations here, e.g. that the 80% rule be extended to the self-employed, based on recent tax returns along with a temporary cancellation of the savings rule for UC. This would help freelance members at the bottom of the earnings scale. It seems to strengthen the case for a Universal Basic Income going forward! 

I can’t control the big stuff – my heart goes out to Italy – almost 800 deaths yesterday, and it’s heartbreaking to see a country brought to its knees. So, I’m focusing on the things I can control – my environment, self-care, online chats and campaigning, and using this unexpected pause to read, study online, and do some business planning.  

Here’s what I’ve been doing to keep my business on track during COVID-19. 

MONEY – I’ve given myself a pay cut. I have a limited company and pay myself a monthly salary, so I’ve reduced this for now. I can cut back to the essentials as I won’t be travelling to London, doing coffees with clients, using hot desk space etc. I’m reviewing all my subscriptions and memberships and cancelling those I can do without. I’ve been using Xero for my accounting, which is expensive – £36 a month as I had EUR payments coming in, so I’m switching to Free Agent, which offers a 30-day free trial and seems more contractor-friendly. I’ve found a cheaper online accountant who specialises in creative businesses. I’ll do my tax return at the end of this month to get it out of the way, so I know what tax I have to pay next year. 

Some guidance from HMRC for small businesses and the self-employed and from The Guardian.

TIME TO HUSTLE – I rent my home, so will speak to my agency to see what help is available and haggling with utility providers and suppliers to see what they can do. I’ve applied for a grant from the Society of Authors contingency fund for authors and journalists and joined the Creative Industries Federation (they are offering free six-month membership for all freelancers and microbusinesses). There are small grants available from various charities, so see what’s available in your field. Facebook is offering cash grants and ad credits for small businesses.

TRAINING – I’ve signed up for some online courses and webinars to learn new skills. AllBright, a club and community that celebrates and connects women at work, is running 20 digital courses at 2 pm every day, so an excellent opportunity to dip my toe in and see what they offer. FEU Training has a digital learning centre for creative freelancers (free to NUJ/union members). Also, check out Skillshare.

ONLINE WORK – it’s a good time to update the CV. I use Indeed, We Work Remotely, Hoxby Collective, Yuno Juno, The Dots, Freelance Alliance, and LinkedIn to find remote work. Search hashtags: #remotejobs #remotework #workingfromhome #JournoJobs. I also subscribe to newsletters that list writing jobs, e.g. The Professional Freelancer, Journo Resources, Freelance Writing Jobs

OPPORTUNITY/MINDSET – things are going to be very different over the next few months, so I will use this opportunity to think, review my business and what I want to do next. As Debbie Wosskow, co-founder of AllBright, said, “It’s an unexpected pause. I’ve never spent any time in my own home, and now I’m here!” Make the most of it and enjoy family time. Small businesses might need more online content and social media to stay connected while they’re shut, so I’ll pitch my services around locally.

DIGITALISE YOUR BUSINESS – What income streams can you digitalise? I’ve seen yoga teachers, fitness instructors and nutritionists doing online classes via Zoom. I wrote a book a few years ago which got pulled, so a good time to publish it as an e-Book. What digital products can you create now for future passive income? I use Free Conference Call for team calls, Skype, WeChat groups, Trello for planning, Twitter and LinkedIn to share work.

SELF-CARE – It’s tempting to scroll the newsfeed all day, but it makes me feel anxious and unable to concentrate, so time to stop. It’s also easy to spend all day on your laptop when you work from home and not take proper breaks. It’s spring and the weather’s changing so I’ll go for walks and jogs to clear my head. Check out online fitness classes, and the Headspace app for meditation. 

COMMUNITY – This is a war on a virus, and there’s been nothing like it in my lifetime, so we are having to rethink how we live, work and interact. We’re in this together and need to help each other. I’ve joined Nextdoor to find out what’s going on in my neighbourhood, and AllBright Connect – they asked for volunteers to do skills swaps so a good opportunity to make new contacts. Follow hashtags on Twitter like #SupportFreelancers and local Coronavirus groups on Facebook to find out what’s going on in your area.

CAMPAIGNING – I’ve signed and shared several petitions to support freelancers and the self-employed: 

Don’t Leave Freelancers Behind in the Coronavirus Crisis

Self-employed in Statutory Sick Pay

Self-employed 80% of Their Median Salary During the Coronavirus Pandemic

I’ve written to my MP calling for the benefit to be extended immediately to the self-employed. Here’s a template letter from the NUJ which you can adapt. I’m also following various MPs on Twitter like Tracy Brabin, John McDonnell, and Keir Starmer who are campaigning to help the self-employed. 

Keep calm, carry on. We can survive, we will thrive! Let’s see what happens next week. I hope more measures are introduced to help the self-employed. Celebrate your achievements and have a virtual glass of vino with your colleagues to help each other through this crisis. If you’re home-schooling – there are some great ideas here. This is an opportunity to do things differently, and it will lead to a more creative and connected way of living.

Stay safe, keep well, and look after those around you! 

What are you doing to keep your business on track? Send me your tips and follow me on Twitter @niccitalbot, I’d love to hear from you. 

Clear messaging (& tone of voice) is crucial at all times – not just during coronavirus!

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If you need a little help with your marketing activity in the coming weeks – get in touch today. Nicci@niccitalbot.com.

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Coronavirus and freelancers: “If I become ill, I’ll have to work.”

Working as a freelancer or contractor in the UK? You may find this interesting. 

Petition: Include Self-employed in Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) during Coronavirus. It’s had over 65,000 signatures so far. If it hits 100,000, it will be considered for debate in parliament. I’ve signed it and shared.

Self-isolating employees can access sick pay from the first day of being off if they earn enough, but it’s not clear if this will be extended to those on low incomes, zero-hours contracts and the self-employed if a pandemic hit the UK. 

Freelancers make up 15% of the UK workforce, and the majority of us aren’t entitled to any sick pay. So, we rely on our savings. We need to pay bills and put food on the table like everyone else so most of us will carry on going to work, sick or not, which raises the risk of spreading the virus further. 

As the petition points out, “4.8 million people are registered self-employed in the UK (2017 figures from the Office of National Statistics so this figure is probably higher). “It would be easy enough to work out what each person is entitled to based on their tax returns.” 

Good to see trade union action spurring this on. On March 4, Francis O’Grady, General Secretary of the Trades Union Congress (TUC), called on the government to make SSP available to all workers. “Unless we sort out our sick pay rules and make them fair, many workers are going to face that invidious choice of do they pay their bills, put food on the table, or do they follow government health advice to self-isolate if they’ve got symptoms? No one should be out of pocket for doing the right thing.” The National Union of Journalists (NUJ London Freelance Branch) has also written about it here

And Lisa Nandy (my favourite Labour candidate) in The Guardian today calling for an extension to the Brexit transition period because of the coronavirus. “Businesses trading with the EU do not know what terms they will be trading on in 10 months. Add to this the falling demand and disruption created by the coronavirus, and it is reasonable to expect many businesses will not survive.” Which means more stress for the freelancers who work for them.

She has also suggested extending SSP to avoid a ‘public health disaster’ waiting to happen if self-employed people and those working in the gig economy can’t afford to self-isolate. 

Please sign it and share! 

Photo by Hello I’m Nik 🍌 on Unsplash

Enjoy reading this?

Clear messaging (& tone of voice) is crucial at all times – not just during coronavirus!

If you need a little help with your marketing activity in the coming weeks – get in touch today. Nicci@niccitalbot.com.