Covid-19 has impacted significantly on self-employed individuals across the UK who have had their means of earning a living severely disrupted. Applications to the self-employment scheme have already exceeded one million, but how easy is it to check if you are eligible?
The most recent of the pandemic support measures implemented by the Government is the Coronavirus Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS), which went live on Wednesday last week and is proving to be both necessary and very welcome.
The grant enables the self-employed and those who are members of partnerships whose businesses have been adversely affected by Covid-19 to claim 80pc of their average monthly trading profits.
110,000 self-employed individuals applied for the grant within hours of the scheme going live and the number rapidly exceeded one million in a matter of days. Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) officials report that the value of claims to the scheme has already reached in excess of £3bn.
SEISS elegibility checker
It is most likely that those who are eligible to claim have already been contacted by HMRC. Nonetheless, the First Permanent Secretary and Chief Executive of HMRC has urged those who have not been contacted but believe they are eligible to visit the Government website.
A potential claimant will find the SEISS eligibility checker and they should have their Self Assessment Unique Taxpayer Reference (UTR) number to hand, as well as their National Insurance number as proof of their right to work in the UK.
HMRC has instructed eligible claimants to apply on a particular date between May 13-18, and the date should be checked before applying. The service provides an instant response stating whether the claimant has qualified for the scheme and, if not, why not.
The reasons for rejection can include trading profits of more than £50,000, trading profits being less than non-trading income, or failing to submit a self-assessment tax return for the 2018/19 year.
However, those who submitted their return between March 26, 2020 and April 23, 2020 are being urged to check the system again, as the online service has been updated with more data. Those who still believe they are eligible after being rejected by the calculator should contact HMRC to discuss their concerns.
Eligible applicants should provide information detailing how their business has been affected by the coronavirus and provide relevant bank account information for payment of the grant if approved.
SEISS went live weeks earlier than previously announced in order to offer dedicated help to the self-employed. The maximum payment from the scheme is set at £7,500 and applies to the months of March, April and May.
Cracks in the system
Chancellor Rishi Sunak, commenting on the scheme, said that the Government had worked ahead of time to deliver support to the self-employed and that as of Wednesday last week, the scheme had opened for the millions of people eligible to apply.
With payments arriving before the end of the month, he added, the self-employed across the country will have money in their bank accounts to help them through these difficult times.
Nevertheless, there are some organisations in the UK who think the eligibility criteria for SEISS are too severe and restrictive. Matt Dowling, CEO and founder of Freelancer Club, urges the Government to extend and fast-track the scheme.
He predicts that up to two million of the self-employed and freelancers able to check their eligibility online will have had their worst fears comfirmed on their computer screens. Many of these people, he added, were hit hardest and earliest during this crisis and have been unable to work for several weeks now.
They have been totally abandoned by falling through the cracks in this new system because they’ve earned too little, too much, or not held self-employed status for long enough. Consequently, there is nothing left for those who aren’t eligible for Universal Credit, Small Business Grants or Housing Benefit.
Mr Dowling concluded that the Government must extend and speed up support for the self-employed before the current crisis deepens further.