Self-employed? Here are your rights during the coronavirus crisis
With many businesses grinding to a halt, it is the self-employed and freelancers who may be among the worst hit financially. Their access to protections such as sick pay and redundancy pay are virtually non-existent, although the government is making it easier for the self-employed to access benefits during the crisis. Better-off self-employed workers are also more likely to have purchased income protection insurance contracts which may now pay out.
What rights do I lose because I’m self-employed?
It’s a long list. If you are self-employed you do not have a right to statutory sick pay, statutory redundancy pay or the national minimum or living wage. To state the obvious, a self-employed person does not have a contract of employment with an employer and has to decide for themselves things like when to take holidays, how much to charge clients, when to take breaks and so on.
So I have almost no rights as a self-employed person?
Actually you do have a lot of other statutory protections. You may also have rights that are written into specific contracts you negotiated with your clients – such as termination payments if the contract ends early.
The main statutory protections are around discrimination. A self-employed person has the same rights in law as any other worker in this area. Under UK law, they can not be discriminated against on grounds of age, race, disability, sexual orientation, religion and so on.
If I can’t get sick pay, what benefits can I apply for as a self-employed person?
In general, when it comes to working out which benefits you are eligible for and how much you might get, the same rules usually apply whether you work for an employer or are self-employed, according to benefits advisory group Turn2Us. Your earnings from self-employment will count as income when working out what benefits might be available to you. Turn2Us also offer a useful benefits calculator.
In the recent budget, the government agreed to make accessing benefits easier for self-employed people.
At the time of writing, the government’s position is that if you are not eligible for statutory sick pay (and that includes people earning less than £118 a week, as well as the self-employed) and you have Covid-19 or are advised to self-isolate, “you can now more easily make a claim for universal credit or new-style employment and support allowance.” The government website offering more guidance is at gov.uk/universal-credit and gov.uk/guidance/new-style-employment-and-support-allowance.
What if I am self-employed and receiving universal credit?
The government says if you are self-employed and receiving universal credit and you have Covid-19 or are advised to self-isolate, the requirements of the minimum income floor will be temporarily relaxed.
The minimum income floor is the amount the DWP uses to set your universal credit payment each month. The standard rule is that if you earn more than the minimum income floor you will get less universal credit. If you earn less than the minimum income floor you won’t get any extra money to make up the difference.
The government says the the change to the minimum income floor will last “for the duration of the outbreak”.
What if I’m self-employed, see my income fall, but I am still earning something?
Generally, self-employed people on low incomes have the right to receive tax credits and certain welfare benefits. But experts say making this type of claim can be complex. Details of working tax credits are here gov.uk/working-tax-credit, with information about what you are eligible for if you’re self-employed.
I’m a casual worker, mostly at the same workplace. Do I have additional rights?
This is a complicated area. There are actually three categories of “employment” – employee, worker and self-employed. Acas has a good guide to your working rights at acas.org.uk/checking-your-employment-rights.
It says that if you’re self-employed and get work through an agency, you might be given a contract for services and be called a contractor.
In this case you might have “worker” employment status and rights for the duration of the contract, so it’s a good idea to check.
Acas says that as a worker, you have employment rights including the national minimum wage, paid holiday and protection against unlawful discrimination.
The TUC also has a good guide to the various employment statuses at tuc.org.uk/employment-status-and-rights
But precisely who is a “worker” and who is “employed” is never that clear. According to WorkSmart.org.uk, “every year court cases hang on the distinction between the three categories and unfortunately there is no clear definition”.
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