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Coronavirus updates: Rescue package for self-employed concerns

All the latest coronavirus updates and industry news – as it happens…

Friday 27 March

  • The chancellor has unveiled a rescue package for the self-employed after days of intense pressure.

The Government’s new Self-Employed Income Support Scheme will pay those who work for themselves 80 per cent of average profits over the past three years, up to £2,500 per month. It is open to those with average profits of £50k or less for at least three months.

Self-employed people who are eligible can apply directly to HMRC for the grant, using an online form; HMRC will then pay the grant straight into their bank account.

However, there were concerns that people will not be able to access the funds until June.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak said: “95 per cent of people who are majority self-employed will benefit from this scheme. HMRC are working urgently, we expect people to access it no later than the beginning of June. If eligible, HMRC will contact you with an online form, they pay the grant straight to your bank account.”

HBAA chair Lex Butler said: “At last the Chancellor has come to the rescue of the thousands of self-employed freelances who play vital roles in our industry, and with a scheme that gives them parity with employees. It will be a great relief to them.

“But there is great concern because they won’t access this support until June. Some won’t survive the two months without looking to secure the interest free loans, growing their personal debt.

“Also I see a potential hole in this, which worries me. Those who are sole employees within a limited company are not classified as self-employed or sole traders. As directors of a limited company, they can’t claim the 80% as an employee or as self-employed. So they will suffer having to apply for Universal Credit where many are already struggling to register, and business loans.”

Thursday 26 March

  • Birmingham’s NEC and Manchester’s MCCC earmarked for emergency hospitals 

The National Exhibition Centre near Birmingham has been proposed as a temporary field hospital to treat victims of coronavirus under plans being considered by Whitehall officials.

The Manchester Central Convention Centre has also been considered as a temporary field hospital for hundreds of coronavirus patients if the need arises.

Wednesday 25 March

  • London City Airport is closing until the end of April, it has been announced.

A statement from the airport said: “Following the Government’s latest instructions in response to the Coronavirus outbreak, we have made the decision to temporarily suspend all commercial and private flights from the airport.

“This will begin in the evening on Wednesday 25 March and is expected to last until the end of April. We will keep this under review.”

  • ExCeL London is to become an emergency hospital, NHS Nightingale, as the conference centre gets ready to assist with an expected surge in coronavirus patients in the capital.

There will be an initial 500 beds, rising to an expected 4,000, as the new hospital gets ready to treat coronavirus patients within days.

“We will next week open a new hospital, a temporary hospital, the NHS Nightingale hospital, at the ExCel Centre in London,” Matt Hancock, the health secretary, said at a news conference on Tuesday.

“The NHS Nightingale hospital will comprise two wards each of 2,000 people. With the help of the military and with NHS clinicians, we will make sure that we have the capacity that we need.”

Jeremy Rees, CEO, ExCeL London, said: “Our country is facing the largest national emergency for a generation and our thoughts and sympathies are with those who are personally affected by this situation. It is crucial that everyone plays their part in the national effort, working with the Government to combat the spread of the coronavirus and save lives.

“We are proud to be able to accommodate the increasing demand for hospital beds and will work with the NHS to facilitate this request. The team at ExCeL London will ensure that we work with the Government and relevant authorities to support their efforts in seeing the British people and the UK through this unprecedented crisis.”

Tuesday 24 March

  • The UK has been placed under lockdown in a bid to slow the spread of the coronavirus outbreak.

Meetings of more than two people, shopping for non-essentials and gathering in crowds are now banned. People will only be allowed to leave their homes in a small range of limited circumstances.

Leave home for only:

  • Shopping for basic necessities
  • One form of exercise a day – parks remain open for exercise
  • Any medical need/care for vulnerable people
  • Travelling to and from work, only if absolutely necessary

Weddings and all other social events except funerals have now been banned.

In an address to the nation, Boris Johnson said: “Each and every one of us is now obliged to join together, to halt the spread of this disease. To protect our NHS and to save many many thousands of lives.

“And I know that, as they have in the past so many times, the people of this country will rise to that challenge. And we will come through it stronger than ever. We will beat the coronavirus and we will beat it together.

“And therefore I urge you at this moment of national emergency to stay at home, protect our NHS and save lives.”

The measures will be enforced by the police and stay in place for three weeks.

  • There are plans to turn London’s ExCeL Centre into a huge field hospital to help take the pressure off the NHS.

A team of military planners visited the Docklands venue to determine how it might be able to use the space, according to the Evening Standard. An official decision has not yet been made on the matter.

A Ministry of Defence spokesman said: ‘To assist NHS England to prepare for a number of scenarios as the coronavirus outbreak unfolds, a team of military planners visited the ExCeL centre in London to determine how the centre might benefit the NHS response to the outbreak.’

The venue is “one of many” venues that could potentially be used in the fight against the virus, according to The Telegraph, with the QEII Centre also reportedly in line to be converted.

Monday 23 March

  • Chancellor Rishi Sunak has been criticised for failing to offer support to the self-employed in his coronavirus bailout package.

Under the plans revealed on Friday (20 March), self-employed workers are set to receive £94.25 a week in universal credit, compared to up to £2,400 a month for the directly employed.

Zoe Froome, a freelance live events project manager, told M&IT: “The disparity between the two offers on the table for employed and self-employed is ridiculous. A self-employed person earning £30k a year still pays the same tax and NI contributions, so why do we matter less when it comes to this support?”

The Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed (IPSE) called on the chancellor to offer the self-employed 80 per cent of their wages, delivered through the self-assessment tax system.

IPSE’s policy director, Andy Chamberlain, said: “In this drastic and grave situation, we urge the prime minister and chancellor to match the steps they have taken for employees and create a temporary income protection fund for the self-employed. This should give a temporary, targeted cash injection to the freelance businesses that are struggling most – a financial boost to make up for lost income and keep them afloat.”

Robert Jenrick, the communities secretary, said on Sunday the government knows the situation “isn’t perfect”.

“The chancellor is going to keep reviewing the situation and see if there are further measures we can take,” he told the BBC. “It isn’t easy, it’s not as simple as supporting those who are in employment. The purpose of our employment mechanism is to help continue the connection between employees and their business so once this is over – and it will be over – those individuals can return to their usual work and that link isn’t broken. It is operationally very difficult to create a scheme akin to that for the self-employed but we are reviewing this.”

  • The UK public has been warned to stop congregating in public or face new coronavirus enforcement measures within 24 hours.

Boris Johnson said that if people continue to ignore social distancing guidelines in public spaces he would have to introduce tougher measures to enforce it.

London mayor Sadiq Khan said police could be used to enforce any new measures. In Scotland police have been used to close pubs which have refused to shut.

  • Approximately 1.5 million people who are particularly vulnerable to the coronavirus are being contacted by the NHS and advised to stay at home for 12 weeks.

A network of local hubs will ensure they still receive essential items without leaving the house, the government said.