The Self-Employment Income Support Scheme: what’s next?

If you’re self-employed, there’s still time for to apply for financial assistance through this government initiative.

The devastating economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic led to some 2.7m claims for grants during the first stage of the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS), which offered financial aid to a varied selection of self-employed people, including plumbers, writers and personal trainers.

Applications for the second batch of grants can be made until 19 October 2020, so we show you how to stake your claim before the deadline expires and speak to accountants and other experts about financial preparations you’ll need to make  when the landmark scheme is closed.

Applying for a grant

If you’re self-employed and your business’s income or costs have been adversely affected by coronavirus on or after 14 July 2020, you probably qualify for assistance.

Your trading profits must be equal to or less than £50,000, based on an average, over the three tax years up to 2018/19. So if you’re a high earner or haven’t been self-employed for long, you’ll miss out. Limited company directors, people with non-trading incomes higher than their trading profits (such as from shares or properties), and freelancers paid through PAYE don’t qualify either. But almost everyone else can get a payment of 70% of their expected profits – capped at £6,570 – over the three months from 14 July, based on that three-year average.

“My industry ground to a halt after lockdown,” says Brighton documentary maker Dylan Howitt, who’s already received both SEISS grants. “For me and many others, the support has been a lifesaver.”

There are few catches to the SEISS funding, but bear in mind that it is subject to national insurance and income tax.

To check your eligibility and for information on how to make a claim, visit the GOV.uk website.

What to do after SEISS

Most experts agree that, with government borrowing now standing at more than £2trn, the SEISS is unlikely to return in the future. For many self-employed people, the impact of this could be softened by cutting costs, an upturn in work or diversifying into new income streams. But, beyond that, there are alternative sources of funding and several accountancy tactics you can employ to try to protect your cash flow.

Other types of support

Whether or not you qualified for the SEISS, two major forms of government assistance will remain after October 2020. The Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS) provides access to loans and other types of finance up to £5m for SMEs that have been affected by the pandemic. The government guarantees 80% of the finance to the lender and pays interest and any fees for the first 12 months. The fast-track Bounce Back Loan Scheme (BBLS) allows the self-employed to borrow between £2,000 and 25% of their turnover (up to a maximum of £50,000).

Other government coronavirus-related initiatives are now largely closed to new applicants. Self-employed people whose income has taken a bad hit may, however, be able to claim Universal Credit. It’s well known that they can’t get sick pay, but, says Andy Chamberlain, director of policy at the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed (IPSE): “The new Employment and Support Allowance is available for those who are ill or self-isolating as a result of Covid-19.”

We normally advise people to have cash flow of around 10% of turnover. At the moment, it’s better to make that 20% to help cover worst-case scenarios

Tommy McNally
Self-Employed Business Support Group

Several industry bodies have hardship funds or grants to help struggling freelancers. These range from the Help Musicians charity to Unite – the UK’s largest general union with 1.4m members in multiple sectors including construction, finance, transport and food.

IPSE would like to see further targeted government help for sectors and businesses most affected by coronavirus. Others would like more assistance for the estimated 1.5m people, such as the newly self-employed, who fell through the SEISS net. “The government doesn’t seem to be budging on that issue, though,” says Tommy McNally, an accountant who runs the Self-Employed Business Support Group.

Helping yourself

It would have been wise to take advantage of the fact that HMRC moved its payment on account deadline from July to 31 January 2020. With more work coming in for most businesses now, holding back tax owed until later will help your short-term cash flow and give you time to earn money to cover any liability shortfalls. That said, in uncertain times, it may be better to settle up as soon as you can. “I didn’t defer,” says Dylan Howitt. “I preferred not to push that cost forward.”

A portion of the amount due in January 2021 is an estimate of the tax you’ll owe for the 2020/21 financial year, based on your 2019/20 accounts. If you’re confident you’ll earn less this tax year than last, you can ask for this estimate to be reduced on account, rather than waiting for a refund. But if you’re hoping to get Universal Credit – which is usually assessed and paid in arrears each month – don’t apply until any tax owed has left your bank account or it will be seen as income.

“Couples where one is no longer a taxpayer [because their income is below £12,500], and the other has income of less than £50,000 [£43,430 in Scotland], may claim marriage allowance,” adds Kay Ingram, director of public policy at LEBC financial advisors. “They’ll save £250 per year.”

Make sure you’re claiming for all the allowable expenses you can, particularly if your house is now your office. These may include anything from lighting to training courses or website costs.

If you can, save money to help cover future tax increases. “The government has a big debt that will need to be repaid by a lot of people,” says McNally.

Compiling detailed expected costs and income plans for perhaps three months or a year ahead is more important than ever. “We normally advise people to have cash flow of around 10% of turnover,” adds McNally. “At the moment, it’s better to make that 20% to help cover worst-case scenarios.”

Try to restructure debts, even if it’s just asking utility companies to give you longer to pay bills.

You could dip into your pension pot to help cash flow, but you’ll have to pay tax if you take out more than 25%. Instead, if you’re reasonably well paid, Kay Ingram advises putting as much money as possible into your pension now. “It’s probable that higher-rate relief on pension savings will soon be removed,” she says.

Of course, it’s worth asking an accountant for advice on any aspect of your pandemic-affected finances. But, says Forhad Ahmed, of AGP Consulting Chartered Accountants, there’s money to be saved directly here, too. “Try asking for a reduction in fees, if times are really difficult,” he suggests.

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