The Government has announced a much-anticipated income support scheme for the self-employed to give similar protection to other workers during the coronavirus pandemic, a move which has led to calls for further closures of construction sites.
Brian Berry, chief executive of the Federation of Master Builders, welcomed the support saying building companies could now close sites to protect workers “without having to worry about the losses faced by self-employed workers.”
The package, outlined by Chancellor Rishi Sunak, means people who work for themselves would receive a support grant amounting to 80% of their profits for up to three months initially and up to a limit of £2,500 per month, the same amount being made available for PAYE workers.
The grant will be paid in one lump sum in June, leading many to ask how they are expected to support themselves until then.
Emma Morgan, employment partner at Shoosmith’s described the scheme as “complex”. She said: “The scheme relies on HMRC having the resources and ability to be able to contact 95% of the self-employed population to tell them that they qualify and can access this grant.
“However, the major problem for many will be what happens until June as many are out of work now and unable to trade and June may just be too far away for many self-employed workers.”
The amount each person will receive will be calculated from the last three years’ profits where possible. As long as a person was trading during the last financial year, they will be eligible.
However, Sunak said the deal, which will be known as Coronavirus Self-employment Income Support Scheme, will not be applicable to those who are newly self-employed.
Morgan described this as “problematic” while Robert Downes, spokesman for the Federation of Small Businesses in Greater Manchester, said that while the deal was not perfect, it was bold.
He said: “The self-employed community underpins the UK economy. They are the individual risk-takers who don’t expect the same benefits as employees. In this moment of a collective national effort, the package is significant.”
The Chancellor’s announcement will come as a relief to many self-employed construction workers and sub-contractors who may now feel that they can stay at home rather than go to site.
However, the message from Government remains that as long as advice from Public Health England is followed those who work on construction sites can continue to work.
Many firms, including Bam, Mulbury and Renaker, have already closed sites in the interests of safety but others have remained open, confident they can adequately follow official safety guidelines.
Berry said: “Construction workers across the country will now be taking a collective sigh of relief knowing they will now be protected in the same way that employees will be if they lose work due to Covid-19.
“The Chancellor has heeded our calls to be generous with his offer to the self-employed. We now urge the Treasury and HMRC to ensure that all support packages are up and running as soon as physically possible.”