COVID-19 advice for freelancers in the screen industries

By March 16, 2020Uncategorized

Amid the uncertainty of Covid-19, screen industry groups are offering information to freelancers and the self-employed. Read below to see advice and guidance from the UK government, as well as industry groups such as BECTU, the Film and TV Charity and the IPSE.

UK Government’s Business support announced in the Budget (March 11th):

In the 11th March 2020 Budget, the Chancellor announced a package of measures to provide support for public services, individuals and businesses to ensure the impact of COVID-19 is minimised.

  • A new Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme, delivered by the British Business Bank, will enable businesses with a turnover of no more than £41 million to apply for a loan of up to £1.2 million, with the government covering up to 80% of any losses with no fees. This will unlock up to £1 billion pounds to protect and support small businesses.
  • For businesses with fewer than 250 employees, the cost of providing 14 days of statutory sick pay per employee will be refunded by the government in full. This will provide 2 million businesses with up to £2 billion to cover the costs of large-scale sick leave.
  • A dedicated helpline has been set up to help businesses and self-employed individuals in financial distress and with outstanding tax liabilities receive support with their tax affairs. Through this, businesses may be able to agree a bespoke Time to Pay arrangement. If you are concerned about being able to pay your tax due to COVID-19, call HMRC’s dedicated helpline on 0800 0159 559.
  • There will be a £3,000 cash grant to 700,000 of our smallest businesses, delivered by Local Authorities, and worth a total of £2 billion.
  • The government is temporarily increasing the business rates retail discount in England to 100% for 2020-21 for properties below £51,000 rateable value. Nearly half of all business properties will not pay a penny of business rates. In addition, the decisions announced by the Bank of England on 11 March 2020 mean that banks are in a better position to provide additional credit to smaller businesses.

According to Business Secretary Alok Sharma said government will continue to review these measures as the impact of the virus progresses. If you have a query that isn’t covered by government guidance you can contact the Business Support Helpline.


BECTU, a union representing over 40,000 staff, contract and freelance workers in the media and entertainment industries:

Where employers are taking action because of coronavirus, including cancelling a contract because of precautions against the spread of coronavirus, BECTU suggests you:

– Find out whether your production is covered by a BECTU agreement in Feature Film, TV drama*, the construction sector of film or as a supporting artist, or in the advertising production sector. You will have some rights if you are covered by an agreement. Generally, in these industries, most workers are given a week’s notice even though there may not be a strict legal entitlement to it.

* The TV drama agreement stipulates that members must receive the deal memo BEFORE the engagement.

– Ask employers to offer at least two weeks of notice payment instead of the one week.

– Press employers for early confirmation of a job, avoid accepting verbal assurances and ‘pencil’ bookings and agree a cancellation fee in advance of starting the job.


The Film and TV Charity, a screen industry charity offering a support line and financial services:

The NHS website is being updated regularly with advice on how to protect yourself and keep well.

Looking after your mental health is also important at the moment and our partners at Mind have some great advice.

Our Film and TV Support Line is always there for you, 24/7, helping you to manage issues big and small, on 0800 054 00 00 and live-chat. If the current situation is having an impact on you, why not give us a call to see if we can help.

Our friendly team can offer a listening ear and help you to think through your options. We also offer support grants to help if you’re experiencing significant financial difficulties.


IPSE, the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self Employed:

IPSE wrote a letter (available to view here) to the Secretary of State for Health, Matt Hancock, and the Secretary of State for Work & Pensions, Therese Coffey, on 27th February raising concerns about the impact of the coronavirus outbreak and how it might affect the self-employed. The government outlined its response in its Budget on March 11. Key measures announced to help freelancers included:

  • The minimum income floor in Universal Credit will be temporarily relaxed for those directly affected by COVID-19 or self-isolating, ensuring self-employed claimants will be compensated for losses in income
  • ‘New style’ Employment and Support Allowance will be payable for people directly affected by COVID-19 or self-isolating according to government advice for from the first day of sickness, rather than the eighth day
  • People will be able to claim UC and access advance payments where they are directly affected by COVID-19 (or self-isolating), without the current requirement to attend a jobcentre
  • Introducing ‘Time to Pay’ arrangements – a time-limited deferral period on HMRC liabilities owed and a pre-agreed time period to pay these back – for businesses and self-employed individuals in financial distress and with outstanding tax
  • HMRC has set up a dedicated COVID-19 helpline to help those in need, and they may be able to agree a bespoke Time to Pay arrangement. HMRC will also waive late payment penalties and interest where a business experiences administrative difficulties contacting HMRC or paying taxes due to COVID-19.
  • A new, temporary Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme, delivered by the British Business Bank, to support businesses to access bank lending (loans of up to £1.2 million) and overdrafts. The government will provide lenders with a guarantee of 80% on each loan.

Advice for freelancers and clients

IPSE broadly recommends that freelancers and self-employed people should start discussing preparations with their clients now: particularly getting ready to work remotely if they can. Clients that rely on the flexibility of freelancers should recognise that this can often mean the self-employed are in a more precarious position if they fall ill or need to self-isolate, even as a precaution. We would hope that clients engage constructively with these workers to put appropriate arrangements in place to minimise health risks and disruption. It would also be prudent to consider how the coronavirus may affect your contractual obligations, for instance checking whether  you have ‘force majeure’ clauses in place. 

Freelancers may also wish to check what health or income protection insurance they have in place. There are a number of options available if you are not currently covered however we would caution that these policies often have a deferral period of three to four weeks and may not provide appropriate cover if you are forced to self-isolate, so it is vital you are aware of the T&Cs before making any decision.

Ultimately freelancers should not feel they must put themselves more at risk just because they are self-employed: health comes first.




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