A survey by industry trade body, Women in Film and TV, has found that a massive 67% of freelancers have not been able to access any financial help from government during the COVID-19 crisis.

The survey, that was open to both men and women in the UK Film and TV industry, found that many freelancers are unable to claim under either the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS) or the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS).

The key findings from the WFTV survey reveal that:

  • Just 16% of PAYE contractors have been furloughed by their employers or ex-employers under the CJRS.
  • Only 31% of owners of limited companies have been able to make a claim to furlough themselves under the CJRS. And even for those owners who could claim, the majority were only able to claim 20% or less of their income.
  • And only 32% of freelancers believe they are eligible for support under the SEISS, which is now open for claims on the HMRC portal.

The reasons freelancers were unable to claim include:

  • PAYE contractors who had been working for the BBC. These workers say they are being told by the BBC due to the eligibility rules of the CJRS, if they have been working for the public sector arm of the BBC, the BBC isn’t able to furlough them.
  • Other respondents reported that BBC Studios – the commercial arm of the BBC – had told them that they couldn’t be furloughed unless the BBC had already been planning to re-hire them. (Following developments yesterday, this BBC policy is now being changed.)
  • Freelancers working for a number of different production companies, who were working in the required timeframe and should have been eligible for furloughing, have been left with nothing, because the companies they were working for didn’t put them on the HMRC payroll in time.

Liz Tucker, Chair, WFTV, said: “Our survey reveals the huge number of freelancers who have been left completely unsupported by the government’s rescue schemes. I appreciate these are very difficult times for many organisations, but I would very strongly urge all organisations, where at all possible to provide the option of furloughing for their staff and help prevent real financial hardship. In addition, I would urge the BBC to provide financial support for those who were working in the public arm of the organisation, who are currently ineligible for furloughing.

“It is deeply unfair that these freelancers who have contributed so much, both as taxpayers and in the cultural enriching of our lives, have been left with absolutely nothing. So, we ask that the Chancellor, as a priority, makes amendments to the current financial schemes to ensure as many freelancers as possible are supported”.

WFTV is calling on government to remove the cap for freelancers earning £50,000 PA or more. Currently, someone earning £51,000 a year is unable to claim anything, whereas someone earning £49,000 can claim the maximum amount. WFTV is also recommending that government allows freelancers working through limited companies to use their combined salary and dividends in any financial grant calculation. It’s also calling for PAYE contractors who are not eligible for furloughing to be able to use their last year’s tax receipts in any financial grant calculation and for those with less than one year’s accounts to use their 19/20 income to calculate any financial grant calculation. WFTV is also suggesting the rules remove the requirement that the freelancer’s self-employed income needs to be more than 50% of their earnings. If someone has only been freelance for several months, it is very likely that they will have made most of that year’s income from non-freelance earnings.

WFTV says that where a period of maternity leave has been taken this should be excluded from the three year averaging of accounts for the calculation of grant payable.

Jon Creamer