MSE News

Coronavirus Self-Employed & Small Limited Company Help

Your rights if you're self employed incl help for limited company directors

Coronavirus Self-Employed & Small Limited Company Help

The coronavirus pandemic has fundamentally changed the way we live. It's an anxious and upsetting time, and while the primary concern is health, many who are self-employed have found they can't continue in business. This guide looks at your rights as a self-employed person and what support's out there – including help for limited company directors.

Important: The info below is the best we have currently, but as this is a fast-changing situation we're updating this guide all the time. If you've a question that isn't covered below or in the other coronavirus guides, please email it to us (we can't respond with personal advice but we'll try to add answers in these guides).

In this guide

New. Self-Employment Income Support Scheme extended, plus claim NOW for March to May

The Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS) – the Government grant to self-employed individuals whose businesses have been adversely affected by coronavirus – has now been extended and eligible people will be able to claim a second (and final) grant in August.

The first grant opened for applications on Wednesday 13 May. It covers three months – March, April and May – and the grants are worth up to 80% of profits, capped at £2,500 per month, or £7,500 in total. You can still apply for this first grant, but the Government's now said that you'll need to do so by Monday 13 July. The second grant will cover June, July and August, and will be capped at £2,190 per month, or £6,570 in total.

As of Sunday 24 May there had already been 2.3 million claims worth £6.8 billion. HMRC says the payments will arrive in bank accounts within six working days of a completed application, so many will now have received payments for the first grant.

Here's what you need to know about the first grant (the one you can currently claim for):

  • The first grant is worth up to 80% of your trading profits. It's capped at £2,500 a month and is taxable. As it's a grant, you don't need to pay it back

  • Grants are based on your profits over three tax years. This is based on an average of the tax returns for 2016/17, 2017/18 and 2018/19.

  • You must have filed a tax return for 2018/19. This means you must have been self-employed prior to 6 April 2019. The last possible moment to file a 2018/19 tax return was Thursday 23 April (the deadline had been extended from 31 January 2020). If you only had a few months' self-employment on your 2018/19 return, this will be counted as your total profit for the year – the Government won't pro-rata it based on your monthly profits.

  • You must earn more than 50% of your total income from self-employment. This must have been the case for either your 2018/19 tax return or, if not, the average of your 2016/17, 2017/18 and 2018/19 tax returns. Income from property, dividends, savings, pensions and taxable benefits all count as "non-trading income" and to qualify for the SEISS. The total of these combined must NOT exceed 50% of your total income. For more information on which benefits count as "taxable income", see our full list here.

  • Your average trading profit must be less than £50,000/year. This is essentially a 'cliff-edge' requirement – so those whose average annual trading profit is more than £50,000 (to be specific, £50,000.01 and above) won't be able to get any support from this scheme.

    For both these requirements, the Government says it will first check your 2018/19 tax return – if you met the requirements that year, you'll be eligible.

    However, if you earned more than £50,000 (or earned less than half of your income from self-employment) in 2018/19, the Government will then check your 2016/17 and 2017/18 tax returns, if you filed them for those years. If on average over the three years you earned less than £50,000 and made more than half your income from self-employment, you'll still be eligible.

  • By now, you should have been contacted if you're eligible for the scheme. If you're eligible for the scheme, HMRC should have contacted you either by letter, text or email. If you believe you're eligible but you've not heard from HMRC, use its eligibility tool to check if you're eligible and, if necessary, arrange an application appointment.

  • You need to apply by 13 July for this first grant. The second grant will open for applications in August.

  • Unlike the employee scheme, here you CAN keep working. And you do not need to prove coronavirus impact, though you will need to declare your business has been impacted. HMRC is introducing checks to prevent fraud.

  • You can also apply for and get universal credit (SEISS doesn't make you ineligible). But once you start receiving self-employed income support too then this will be classed as income, meaning the amount of universal credit you receive will decrease. But you will NOT have to pay back previous months of universal credit because of your SEISS payment.

New. Government to pay out second (and final) SEISS grant in August

Applications for the second grant will open in August. It'll be worth 70% of average monthly trading profits, paid out in a single instalment covering three months' worth of average profits (June, July and August), though this time it'll be capped at £2,190 per month, or £6,570 in total.

The eligibility criteria are the same for both grants, and you don't need to have claimed the first grant to receive the second grant.

Here's Martin with a helpful explainer about how the new extension works:  

Embedded YouTube Video

How the SEISS scheme works

Have more general questions about how SEISS works? Here's Martin's original video explaining how it works, who's eligible, and all the ins and outs. Just remember it was created when the scheme was first announced, so doesn't include the later details or the new extension. 

Embedded YouTube Video

Quick questions

  • Yes, but some benefits could have an impact on your eligibility.

    To qualify for SEISS, your non-trading income has to be less than the trading profits, and some benefits count as "non-trading income".

    Generally speaking, a "taxable benefit" will count as non-trading income, while a "non-taxable benefit" won't count.

    Key benefits that are taxable – and count as income – are:

    • Employment and support allowance
    • Carer's allowance
    • Bereavement allowance

    Key benefits that are non-taxable – and don't count – are:

    • Universal credit
    • Child tax credit

    If you're unsure whether a benefit you get is taxable or non-taxable, click the drop down menus below for the full list.

    • These benefits are ignored when you apply for SEISS
      • Attendance allowance
      • Lump sum bereavement payments
      • Bereavement support payment
      • Best start grant
      • Child benefit
      • Child dependency additions paid with carer's allowance, incapacity benefit, state retirement pension and widowed parent's allowance
      • Child tax credit
      • Christmas bonus for pensioners
      • Cold weather payments
      • Council tax reduction
      • Disability living allowance
      • Employment and support allowance (income-related)
      • Funeral support payment
      • Guardian's allowance
      • Health costs, including eye tests, prescriptions and travel under the Hospital Travel Costs Scheme
      • Housing benefit
      • Income support, unless you are on strike when you claim
      • Industrial injuries benefits, including constant attendance allowance, disablement benefit, exceptionally severe disablement allowance and reduced earnings allowance
      • Maternity allowance
      • One-parent benefit, only available if your claim was made before April 1997
      • Pension credit
      • Personal independence payment
      • Return to work credit
      • Severe disablement allowance
      • Social fund payments, including budgeting loans, funeral expenses payments and sure start maternity grants
      • Universal credit
      • War disablement pension, including allowances
      • War widow's/widower's pension
      • Winter fuel payments
      • Young carer grant
    • These benefits are considered "non-trading income" when you apply for SEISS
      • Bereavement allowance
      • Carer's allowance
      • Employment and support allowance – contributory and youth
      • Incapacity benefit – except for the first 28 weeks (higher rate) and those who were receiving the former invalidity benefit at 12 April 1995 for the same incapacity (long-term)
      • Income support paid to people who are on strike
      • Industrial death benefit pensions
      • Jobseeker's allowance – both contribution-based and income-based up to a taxable maximum
      • State pension
      • Widowed mother's allowance
      • Widowed parent's allowance
      • Widow's pension

        Additions for dependent children paid with any of the above benefits are not taxable. An addition for a spouse or civil partner is taxable.
  • No, that's not a requirement – you can continue working and earning if you're able to, and this won't have any impact on you getting a grant.

  • No, unfortunately not. If you weren't able to file a tax return for self-employed earnings in 2018/19, you won't be able to apply. This is to try to prevent fraud – people saying that they have a self-employed business to get the grant.

  • The grant you'll get is based on your average monthly profits – so if you made a loss, unfortunately you won't be able to get anything. However, do check what other support is available, including whether you can apply for a business interruption loan or universal credit.

  • The Government says individuals must "do the right thing" and only make a claim through the scheme if you've genuinely been adversely affected by coronavirus and need financial support.

    However, if you are struggling now and claim the grant, but later in the year your profits increase, the Government has confirmed the grant WON'T be "clawed back" by HMRC.

    It's worth noting that the grants are taxable – so claiming the grant will mean you have a higher taxable income when you come to do your 2020/21 tax return.

  • It's a possibility, but while the furlough scheme has now been extended, nothing has been announced regarding the SEISS. If it is, we don't yet know whether payments would be made monthly – we'll be following this closely and post full updates in this guide.

  • Sadly not. Under the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme, the state will pay 80% of average profits up to £2,500/month (provided total annual profits are under £50,000).

    The average profit is based on earnings in the three tax years up to 5 April 2019. This leaves those who started a business after that in the lurch, and even some who started during the year before may fall foul, as to qualify over 50% of annual income needs to be from self-employment.

    To help, we asked the Chancellor to change the guidance to allow those who submit provisional tax returns for the most recent tax year to be eligible. But sadly, the Chancellor said no.

  • Yes. The Scottish Government announced on Wednesday 15 April a further £220 million in grants to help businesses, including the recently self-employed.

    About £100 million of that support is designed for self-employed people and viable micro and SME businesses in distress due to coronavirus.

    The application process is set to open by the end of April.

    There's no additional support in Wales or Northern Ireland on top of the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme.

  • You won't necessarily need to prove, or submit evidence, that your business has been adversely affected by coronavirus, but Government guidance says you'll need to 'confirm' that this is the case.

    HMRC says it only expects people to use the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme if they've indeed been negatively impacted, and is introducing checks to prevent fraud.

  • To qualify for the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme, more than 50% of your total income must come from self-employment.

    When looking at what your total income actually is, HMRC takes into account the following: 

    • Income from earnings
    • Trading profits
    • Property income
    • Dividends
    • Savings income
    • Pension income
    • Miscellaneous income
  • Possibly. Being a landlord doesn't preclude you from being a part of the scheme – if you can meet the other criteria. Income from property does count towards your 'total income', but it doesn't count towards trading profits and the scheme looks at trading profits.

    Private landlords are also now eligible for a three-month buy-to-let mortgage payment holiday if their tenants are experiencing financial difficulties.

What if I'm not eligible for the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme?

Not all self-employed people can access this help – for example, if you earn more than £50,000 a year, or if less than half of your income is from self-employment. If you don't meet the eligibility requirements, unfortunately you won't be able to claim, but there are other things you can try:

  • The Government small business bounce back loans can be used to SUPPORT YOUR INCOME, including for those with no other support (eg, newly self-employed, limited company directors). Since Monday 4 May, the new 100% state-backed bounce back loans, for up to £50,000, have been available. They're interest-free and payment-free in the first year – so pay it off then and it's no cost, and at a very low 2.5% annual interest after that.

  • Normally we don't cover business finance, but Martin wanted to here, as he'd had an inkling you could effectively turn this into a state support scheme for those who've missed out on the official ones, ie, newly self-employed, self-employed with £50,000+ profits, limited company directors (to an extent) and more.

    We've now had it officially CONFIRMED there's nothing in the loan rules stopping you using these loans to support your income (though there can be tax/regulation issues depending on your firm's structure). Of course it's far from ideal – these are loans, not grants – but it's an option. So we've rapidly put together our new Bounce Back Loans guide, outlining how the loans work.
  • Alternatively, you can apply for a business interruption loan. The temporary Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme is open to self-employed people and offers access to loans, overdrafts, invoice finance and asset finance of up to £5 million for up to six years. The Government could also give you a Business Interruption Payment to cover the first 12 months of interest and fees on the loan. 

    The scheme is now open for applications, and is offered by all major banks. Read more on the Government's Business Support website. The two loan schemes will run alongside each other.

  • You can defer your income tax payments. If you have income tax payments due in July 2020 under the self-assessment system, you can defer them until January 2021. See self-assessment tax payments delayed.

You can't get statutory sick pay if you're self-employed. But if you have to take time off work because you're sick or self-isolating – or you've lost all your income due to coronavirus – check if you can claim benefits towards housing and other costs.

Self-assessment tax payments are being delayed

The next set of self-assessment tax payments have been delayed to January 2021 in a bid to help the self-employed. If you pay the majority of your tax via self-assessment, then usually you make two payments each year to pay off the previous year's tax bill, one by 31 January (when your tax return is due) and one by 31 July.
The Chancellor announced that there will be no payment due by July this tax year, allowing people more time to pay their tax bill, or to be able to use the cash already saved towards it for more immediate expenses.
  • If you're self-employed and are concerned about paying your tax due to coronavirus, you can apply for a 'Time to Pay' arrangement.

    This gives you a time-limited deferral period on what you owe HMRC and a pre-agreed time period to pay what you owe – it's aimed at businesses and self-employed people who are in 'financial distress' and owe outstanding tax.

    HMRC has also promised to waive late payment penalties and interest where a business experiences administrative difficulties contacting HMRC or paying taxes due to coronavirus.

    For more info, call HMRC's helpline on 0800 0159 559.

You may qualify for benefits if you're sick or self isolating

You can apply for new-style employment support allowance (ESA) and claim from the first day of sickness, but note it's only in cases where households are ill or self-isolating. You won't be able to make a claim because your child's school is closed and you have to take time off to care for them. You can only get help with childcare costs if you're using a registered childcare provider, rather than caring for your kids yourself.

However, it's still worth checking that you're claiming all the other benefits and support you're entitled to, which could include seeing if you can claim universal credit or checking if you can take a mortgage payment holiday or delay energy bills.

IR35 tax reforms have been delayed a year

Controversial reforms which will lead to tax bills going up for many self-employed people have been delayed by a year as a result of coronavirus. Changes to IR35 'off payroll working' rules – anti-tax avoidance rules – will now come in during April 2021 instead.

The changes will mean every medium and large private sector business in the UK will become responsible for setting the tax status of any contracted worker. Currently the rules only apply to the public sector.

In simple terms, this means self-employed people working for a company will pay more tax. The fear is that businesses will find the changes too complicated and use fewer self-employed people as a result. 

However, while the delay comes as a respite for some, it's been made clear the reforms will definitely still go ahead in April 2021.

Gig worker, zero hours, freelance or agency? Check if you're eligible for furlough

If you work in the 'gig' economy – for example, you freelance, work through an agency or are on a 'zero-hours' contract – it's important to check whether you're eligible to be furloughed.

The best way to tell this is to see how you're taxed. If you're taxed through PAYE, then you're considered as an employee, so you should have the same rights as an employee – read more about what those are.

If you are PAYE, then one of your rights is that you're eligible for furlough (the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme), where the Government will pay 80% of your salary up to £2,500/month. You'll need to discuss furlough with your employer, or the relevant agency or umbrella company where applicable. If you are put on furlough, you won't be able to do any work for them or on their behalf until the furlough ends.

The amount the Government will pay will be 80% of your usual pre-tax monthly salary, as it was on 28 February 2020 (if you earn fees, commission or bonuses on top of your usual salary, this won't be included).

If your pay varies from month to month – for example, because you're employed on a 'zero-hours' contract – the 80% will be calculated based on the higher of:

  • Your earnings in the same month of the previous year.
  • OR your average monthly earnings from the 2019/20 tax year.

If you've worked for your employer for less than a year, it'll be calculated based on your average monthly earnings while you've worked there.

If you are self-employed (therefore taxed through self-assessment and not PAYE), you won't be eligible to be furloughed, but you may be eligible for the support being offered to the self-employed, or be able to claim benefits.

For more info, see Martin's video below on zero-hours workers.

Embedded YouTube Video

Help for limited company directors whose small firms are struggling

Those who work via small limited companies that they're directors of (as many firms ask them to) have very limited state support available. Yet there is a small amount of wriggle room, which Martin works through in his 10-minute video guide below.

The video includes the following:

  • No official scheme exists for limited company directors. There's no cover for lost dividends, although many are lobbying for it.
  • Limited company directors, even if they're the only employee, can furlough the PAYE element of their income, ie, get 80% of their salary up to £2,500/month. This isn't likely to be huge, as more income is dividends (and there's no help there), but it's something.
  • If you do furlough yourself you can't then work for the firm, but you can continue to perform your statutory obligations as directors, eg, official legal filings (in the video Martin discusses how far this reaches).
  • Furlough can be for as short as three weeks, so there is flexibility if a project's coming through.
  • When furloughed, it seems acceptable that you can work for other people, so you could freelance yourself and work outside of your limited company.
  • Those struggling for income are likely eligible for, and so should also claim, universal credit.

Note: Limited company directors who do PAYE on an annual or monthly basis are eligible for furlough. However, you will need to have made a Real Time Information (RTI) submission (ie, you're on the payroll) on or before 19 March 2020 to be eligible.

Embedded YouTube Video

Martin has also spoken to HMRC chief executive Jim Harra on ITV's The Martin Lewis Money Show, who has given further details on the support available for limited company directors.

Embedded YouTube Video

Limited company directors can use the Government's small business bounce back loans to SUPPORT THEIR INCOME

Since Monday 4 May, the new 100% state-backed bounce back loans, for up to £50,000, have been available. They're interest-free and payment-free in the first year – so pay it off then and it's no cost, and at a very low 2.5% annual interest after that.

Normally we don't cover business finance, but Martin wanted to here, as he had an inkling you could effectively turn this into a state support scheme for those who've missed out on the official ones, ie, newly self-employed, self-employed with £50,000+ profits, limited company directors (to an extent) and more.

We've now had it officially CONFIRMED there's nothing in the loan rules stopping you using these loans to support your income (though there can be tax/regulation issues depending on your firm's structure). Of course it's far from ideal – these are loans, not grants – but it's an option. So we've rapidly put together our new Bounce Back Loans guide to give you the lowdown, including...

- How bounce back loans work and what they cost.
- Bank-by-bank rundown of what's on offer.
- How to use them to support your income.
- Detailed Q&A with the Treasury.

Warning – watch out for coronavirus scams

scams signpost

Lowlife scammers are taking advantage of coronavirus to try to defraud people, especially the elderly and vulnerable.

Action Fraud has already identified over 1,200 reports of fraud relating to coronavirus since February, with victims' losses totalling more than £2.7 million. Many of these are online shopping scams where victims have tried to buy products such as protective face masks and hand sanitiser from fraudsters. There have also been over 4,400 reports of coronavirus-themed phishing emails designed to trick people into opening malicious attachments or revealing sensitive information.

A common tactic used by scammers is to send messages purporting to be from research groups linked with the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention in the US, or the World Health Organisation. Some claim to be able to provide a list of people infected with Covid-19, which links to a malicious website or asks the victim to make a payment in Bitcoin.

Other common phishing emails include those pretending to be from the Government, sending articles about the coronavirus outbreak with links to fake company websites, or sending details of investment schemes which encourage people to take advantage of the coronavirus downturn.

Received a suspicious email? The National Cyber Security Centre (part of GCHQ) has launched its new Suspicious Email Reporting Service to take phishing scams down – all you have to do is forward suspect emails to its email address.

Tips to protect yourself against scams

Action Fraud says you can do the following to minimise your chances of being tricked:

  • Be vigilant for scam messages. This includes not clicking on any links or attachments if you receive a suspicious message, and not responding to any unsolicited messages or calls that ask for personal or financial details.
  • Take care when shopping online. You should always do your research if buying from a company or person you don't know and trust, and possibly ask a friend or family member for advice first. If you do go ahead with an online purchase, you should use a credit card if possible for extra protection (see our Section 75 guide).
  • Protect your devices from threats. This includes always installing the latest software and app updates to protect your devices from new threats.

Also see MSE Katie's 19+ coronavirus scams to watch out for blog for more of the known coronavirus-related scams out there and tips to protect yourself from fraudsters.

Have you been scammed?

If you've lost money to fraudsters, you should do the following:

  1. Immediately end all communication with them.
  2. Contact your bank to tell them you've been scammed, and cancel any recurring payments.
  3. Report the scam to the police through the Action Fraud website. You can also call it on 0300 123 2040, but be aware it has a reduced phone service at the moment, so waiting times may be longer than usual.
  4. If you want one-on-one help, you can contact Citizens Advice Scams Action by phone or online chat.