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Pressing for pandemic payment

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A coronavirus

THE NATIONAL Union of Journalists continues to press, with allied organisations, for pandemic support payment for those left out by the UK government. Today (27 January) the parliamentary Public Accounts Committee heard the message, and raised questions of Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC). Their analysis gets to the heart of the matter for many or most #ForgottenFreelances: the Committee is "concerned that some self-employed taxpayers may have moved onto payrolls because of HMRC's IR35 rules, but were not employed at the relevant time, and so lost eligibility to COVID-19 support schemes".

The PAC asks HMRC to:

  • publish an explanation for the reasons why it cannot help those freelancers and other groups that have been excluded from receiving any support and what would be required to determine eligibility for financial support for that group of taxpayers; and
  • consider the support it can provide for those taxpayers that have, due to the IR35 rules, moved onto payrolls and missed out on support from the COVID schemes, for example, by reviewing whether it can use an average of wages in the past three years to determine grants.

It requires an answer within six weeks.

This follows NUJ work with the Trades Union Congress (TUC), and also the Creators' Rights Alliance, of which the NUJ is a member, briefing Catherine West MP. On 12 January she put two Parliamentary Questions:

  • 1: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer, whether he plans to (a) close the gaps in the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme identified by the Institute for Fiscal Studies in the fourth round of the scheme for February-April 2021 and (b) pay arrears in respect of rounds one to three inclusive for creative (i) professionals and (ii) other self-employed people who have been ineligible from support under the scheme since March 2020.; and
  • 2: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer, if he will ensure that the fourth grant of the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme covering February-April 2021 remains at 80 per cent of an individual's average monthly trading profits.

The responses on 18 January... merely set out what the government has done. One noted that "The fourth grant will cover February to April 2021. The Government will set out further details, including the level of the fourth grant, in due course." On 22 January Martin Lewis of moneysavingexpert.com reported that the details of this fourth grant will not be announced until the UK government's Spring Budget on 3 March. He described this as "cruel".

In early December NUJ was co-signatory of a letter to the UK Chancellor telling him that failing yet again to address the gaps in financial support for freelances leaves them facing a very difficult winter. The trade unions and business organisations proposed a meeting with Rishi Sunak to discuss ways this can be resolved. The letter says:

We understand that these schemes were set up in haste and that it was difficult at the outset to broaden their scope, however these schemes are now set to run for at least a year and the continued omission of these workers is causing immeasurable hardship and huge mental health consequences for those impacted and their families.

While some of these issues present technical difficulties to resolve, solutions have been proposed to you – such as the new Directors Income Support Scheme which shows how the government can help those with income from dividends from working in their companies, as opposed to passive investment.

The Union will of course keep pushing for #ForgottenFreelances to get what we need.


22 January 2021

Responding to the Prime Minister's announcements about "easing" the covid lockdown, Leader of the Opposition Kier Starmer called on the government to offer more help for those self-employed people who have so far found themselves ineligible for the various schemes it has offered.