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150,000 self-employed miss out on coronavirus income support grant

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More than 150,000 self-employed people will slip through the safety net of the government’s coronavirus income support scheme, statistics reveal.

The Office for National Statistics has published data relating to the number, and nature of, self-employed people in Britain following the government’s pledge to financially support this army of workers whose livelihoods have been impacted by Covid-19.

As part of the Self-employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS), eligible workers will receive a grant worth up to £2,500 a month for the next three months, though it can be extended if necessary.

But there are a number of strict criteria to meet and the actual amount received will be based on average trading profit (covering up to 80% of average monthly profit) from previous tax returns.

At the time the scheme was announced, Chancellor Rishi Sunak said it would help 95% of the self-employed workforce, excluding those who have more than £50,000 a year trading profit, those who haven’t submitted a 2018/19 tax return and those who earn less than 50% of their income from self-employment.

These requirements mean individuals who started to work for themselves between April 2019 and now aren’t eligible for the help.

The ONS data revealed 151,000 (3% of the five million self-employed) only started their business in the 2019/20 tax year. But its data only goes up to December 2019, meaning thousands more who set up on their own in 2020 won’t be eligible either.

While the grant is based on 80% of average monthly profit from the previous three, two or even first-year of accounts, this does mean that new self-employed individuals are likely to receive a lower amount.

Of all self-employed people, 87% (4.3 million) have been self-employed since before April 2018. A further 9% started self-employment between April 2018 and March 2019 so their grant may not reflect their true earning potential.

Further, around 14% of self-employed are sole directors of limited companies (700,000) who may have paid themselves via a majority share of dividends so won’t be eligible for SEISS.

One in 10 are also sub-contractors who fall outside of the cushion of the scheme. However these two groups of workers may be furloughed and may be eligible for the government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme instead.

All in all, Sarah Coles, personal finance analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, said the number of self-employed people left out in the cold could be closer to one million.

She said: “This scheme is far more generous and wide-ranging than anyone ever expected, but as Sunak himself has already admitted – it won’t cover everyone. Hundreds of thousands of people will slip through the net, and will need to fall back on alternative schemes, savings or benefits to get them through the crisis.”

See’s Will my Self-employment Income Support grant be affected by a Universal Credit claim? for more information.

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