The Treasury’s latest update on rules for the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme has caused serious concerns for freelancers.

The guidance was updated on Friday 17 April and now states that fixed term contract PAYE freelancers cannot be re-engaged and furloughed once their contract has naturally come to an end even if they were on a contract during the relevant dates of the scheme.

TV and film workers’ union Bectu and parent union Prospect have contacted Treasury officials after the latest update asking for the new guidance to be changed.

The new guidance means freelancers whose contracts expired before 19th March could not have been furloughed as there was no JRS at that time. Lots of freelancers with contracts expiring late March to now will not have been furloughed because there was no clear guidance and they are now unable to be furloughed.

Guidance issued on 4 April explicitly stated employers could agree to re-employ someone, extend the contract and place them on furlough if they had stopped working for them.

Head of Bectu Philippa Childs said: “This U-turn is a devastating blow to PAYE freelancers across the creative industries.

“With reports suggesting that over half of freelancers are considering leaving the film and TV industry the latest iteration of the JRS guidance will only exacerbate that situation. If we see a mass exodus from the industry because of a lack of financial support during the pandemic the UK will loses it’s international competitive edge when production starts again.

“Many Bectu members felt they had been offered a life line with the previous 4 April update. Now, they are being told that is not the case. This news emerged late on the Friday night before the Job Retention Scheme portal opens with no explanation for why the decision has been taken.

“The Treasury must engage with us to understand the implications of this latest update and to take on board the solutions that we’ve proposed to make sure that freelancers in the creative industries receive vital financial support and don’t fall between the gaps of the JRS and the Self-Employed Income Support Scheme.

“Members are contacting us desperate to find out why this has happened. They deserve better than this and we are calling on the whole industry to come together to highlight the damage that this will do to the creative industries and the economy.”

Staff Reporter