Surviving as a Freelancer under Lockdown
Stating that 50% of the UK’s freelancers have had 100% of their work cancelled due to COVID-19, Senior Reporter and Editor of C21Kids, Nico Franks introduced the online panel.
First up, Senior Policy Analyst at BFI Jack Powell. He explained the BFI had been tasked by government to coordinate the Screen Sector Taskforce to speak with one voice about the affects the crisis is having on the industry. The taskforce has been looking at the short- and long-term issues facing freelancers. The industry at large is split into three similarly sized groups of professionals: those on PAYE, sole traders, and those offering personal services. Many freelancers are not covered by the Job Retention Scheme.
In the longer term, BFI has been working on draft guidelines of best practices to be used across the sector to look after the workforce on return to work. These will go to public consolation through organisations such as PACT.
Victoria Burnip, partner at Doyle Clayton, gave more detail about what is available in terms of financial help. Like many of us, she hadn’t used the term ‘furloughing’ until a month ago! She agreed with Jack’s statement that some freelancers were not covered by the various schemes and added that there was no ‘one size fits all’.
The Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SES) covers many freelancers, but some are ineligible. Freelancers who are covered include:
- Those whose main income is from self-employment.
- Those who put in a tax return for 18/19.
- Those who are still in business and will be in business next year.
- Those whose profit is under £50,000.
HMRC will contact those whom they believe are eligible in mid-May, and payment of 80% of the average monthly income (up to £2,500) for a three-month period will be made in June.
The Job Retention Scheme for PAYE workers covering 80% of salaries only lasts for four months. Directors can furlough themselves. The employer must have a UK bank account. Victoria pointed out that many directors pay themselves low wages and rely on dividends, but only the PAYE salary is covered in the scheme. She also pointed out that furloughed workers can take another job, but cannot work for the employer that has furloughed them.
Andy Da Costa, partner at accountants HHC Partnership Ltd., went through the more general help that freelancers can look for. A lot of this help is for deferring payments to a later date, such as tax, VAT, credit card repayments, car finance and mortgage payments. HMRC has a helpline for advice. The details of the new Bounce Back Loan Scheme are to be announced shortly. It is expected to be a loan up to £50,000 available through the banks, interest free for one year and guaranteed by the government to 100% of the loan, contrasting with the existing Coronavirus Business Interruption loan scheme which allows for larger loans but is only 80% guaranteed by government. Andy stressed that all these measures, welcome as they are, will have to be paid back. For those with nothing in the bank and nothing coming in, Universal Credit is an option, and it’s an easy online application. Answering a subsequent question, he added that those on Working Tax Credit should also be eligible for Universal Credit.
Emma Reeves spoke both as a freelance writer and as Television Committee Chair of the Writer’s Guild. As writing is part of pre-production, most work has carried on, although soap writers have felt an immediate effect. Development work appears to be continuing for now. The Guild is arguing that writers should be paid on delivery, rather than having to wait for a postponed first day of principal photography. There are hardship payments available from the Guild, Society of Authors, and Arts Council amongst others. During questions, she was asked how the animation sector was coping. It seems that most productions are going ahead with people working from home. For writers, radio/audio and animation projects are good things to be working on right now.
‘Bob the Builder’ creator Keith Chapman took us through his early life obsessed with cartoons at school in Basildon, to Yarmouth School of Art, where he studied Graphic Illustration. It was a training that helped him with what he does now, looking for that ‘big idea’. His early break came as a cartoonist, and then with Henson, where he learned about merchandising, licensing, and business all of which led to success stories like ‘Paw Patrol’. His childhood influences were ‘Captain Pugwash’, Flipper, but above all Gerry Anderson (especially ‘Thunderbirds’): “‘Thunderbirds’ was the perfect show, it had everything. It was so well done for its time.”
Senior Reporter & Editor of C21Kids Magazine
Andy Da Costa
The HHC Partnership Ltd
Senior Policy Analyst
Children's Media Consultant
IP, Publishing and Production Consultant