Britain’s five million self-employed workers will be justifiably concerned about what would happen to their income should they fall ill with coronavirus.
Freelancers and the self-employed do not have the safety net of an employer to guarantee them sick pay. The Government has brought in special measures to provide financial support for members of this group who contract the virus. So what has been offered and is it enough to live on?
Despite calls from MPs and trade bodies to provide statutory sick pay for the self-employed, the Government has decided to support them via the benefits system.
Should they fall ill, they will be able to claim employment and support allowance (ESA) and/or Universal Credit. The weekly payment for ESA is typically £73.10 or £57.90 for people under the age of 25.
However Chancellor Rishi Sunak has said that he is raising the payments for Universal Credit so that the self-employed receive the same amount as someone on statutory sick pay (£94.25 a week).
The Government has also said it will make it quicker and easier for people to access these benefits.
Delays on tax payments
HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) has set up a dedicated helpline for businesses and the self-employed that find they’re facing financial difficulties. They will be able to receive advice and may be able to delay tax payments. Those concerned that they won’t be able to pay their tax bill because of coronavirus should call 0800 0159 559.
Self-employed people will be able to delay the payment for their self-assessment tax return until January 2021.
Support for small businesses
Self-employed workers who have set themselves up as a business may benefit from some of the other measures introduced by the Government to minimise the economic impact of coronavirus. These include cash injections of £10,000 for Britain’s smallest businesses, relief from having to pay business rates and the opportunity to apply for loans.
Are the measures enough?
Justin Madders, a Labour MP and shadow employment rights minister, said there was still a gaping hole in the support available for this group.
Self-employed people will only be eligible for ESA if they have made enough National Insurance contributions in the past two to three years. Those that could be entitled to Universal Credit but are not already receiving it will also have to wait five weeks for their first payment – although they will be able to receive the money in advance as a loan.
“People who fall ill need this money now – not in a few weeks’ time,” Mr Madders said.