Covid-19: self employed scheme opens early

The Treasury has formally launched the self employment income support scheme (SEISS) for self employed individuals or members of partnerships whose business has been adversely affected by coronavirus, with payments expected before the end of the month

The department says the scheme is up and running weeks ahead of its original schedule.  From 8am today those eligible will be able to apply for a SEISS grant worth 80% of their average monthly trading profits.

Payments, to be paid in a single instalment covering three months and capped at £7,500, are expected to land in bank accounts by 25 May, or within six working days of each claim.

Rishi Sunak, Chancellor of the Exchequer, said: ‘We’re working ahead of time to deliver support to the self employed and from today, applications open for the millions of people eligible for the scheme.’

Applicants will be given a specific date and time slot on which to make their claim on a day between 13-18 May, based on their unique tax reference number.

HMRC has assigned eligible self-employed individuals the specific date to apply on and this can be checked on HMRC’s online checker.

Mike Cherry, national chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses, said: ‘I would encourage all those who think they are eligible to use the online checker if they’ve not done so yet, and to apply on the date allocated.

‘We are particularly pleased to see the scheme opening earlier than scheduled, with a simple fast-track application and a promise for speedy payment.

‘Just like the job retention scheme portal we hope it will cope with the high expected demand.’

Brian Berry, chief executive of the Federation of Master Builders, said: ‘The self employed account for 40% of the construction workforce so the government’s decision to bring forward the payment to the end May will be very welcome news for the many independent tradespeople who operate in construction.’

However, the Low Incomes Tax Reform Group (LITRG) highlighted some of those eligible may have been missed out from HMRC’s contacts about SEISS, which have been made via email, SMS messages or letter.

Victoria Todd, head of LITRG, said this could include people who are self-isolating at a different address to where they usually reside or perhaps have changed address or mobile number but have not updated their contact details with HMRC.

‘We are concerned that self-employed people whose businesses have been affected by the coronavirus may miss out on claiming this grant because they were not aware that it was available. It would be very unfortunate if business owners who have seen a fall in trade because of the lockdown or Covid-19-related health reasons do not get the financial help they are entitled to,’ she said.

Todd also said there were worries that in some instances HMRC’s online checker may give an incorrect result about an applicant’s eligibility since it only checks some of the eligibility conditions.

‘We are aware that some people who think they are eligible are using the checker and receiving a ‘not eligible’ response. We suggest that you wait a couple of days and then try again. If it still shows you are not eligible then you can ask HMRC to review your eligibility,’ she said. 

Individuals are eligible if their business has been adversely affected by coronavirus, they traded in the tax year 2019 to 2020, intend to continue trading, and they meet three conditions.

These are that they earn at least half of their income through self employment; have trading profits of no more than £50,000 per year; and that they traded in the tax year 2018 to 2019 and submitted their self assessment tax return on or before 23 April 2020 for that year.

HMRC calculates the amount to be paid to each eligible claimant based on an average of the tax returns for 2016/17, 2017/18 and 2018/19.

HMRC’s online checker

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