We have today written to the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, to make him aware of the significant numbers of TV freelancers who have fallen through the cracks of the financial measures he has taken to help those affected by the coronavirus.
We have urged him to take urgent action to safeguard our community - both to alleviate the huge personal toll to individuals but also to ensure the survival of one of Britain's great industries.
Sarah & Matt
UK television is truly the envy of the world. It is an industry where we are without question creative and technical world leaders, and one that contributes substantially to UK PLC.
Yet Covid-19 has had a catastrophic impact on the television industry, bringing production to a standstill and plunging thousands into financial hardship. Without significant help, it risks irrevocable damage.
The Talent Manager represents 100,000 TV freelancers and 3,000 companies – many of these companies small, but creatively vibrant, businesses. Together they are the driving force of production.
While we appreciate the unprecedented challenges you face, and welcome the initiatives you have announced to date, there are vast swathes of TV ‘freelancers’ who have fallen through the cracks, or whose situation remains fraught with anxiety because of uncertainty over how the schemes work.
The Job Retention Scheme may work well for employees who have a permanent job and are laid off because of Covid 19 but in TV, where the majority of workers are on contracts, long and short, it is more problematic. In particular, lack of clarity over the guidance is causing many employers to take an understandably – but possibly, unnecessarily – cautious approach to furloughing. which in turn is leaving tens of thousands of freelancers without a lifeline.
Specific issues that are arising include:
- Employees who were on the payroll (PAYE) on the 28th Feb but whose contract came to a natural end subsequently. Can they be furloughed only for what would have been the duration of that original contract? Or could it be on an ongoing basis? (Contracts in TV are routine extended.) The guidance to date refers to being able to ‘rehire’ them to furlough, but many employers are wanting assurance if this is the case.
- Employees, whose contract finished before the 28th Feb but who were paid on the February Payroll on the 28th Feb have been told by their employer that they will not be eligible for the JRS. Is that correct?
- Employees, whose contract finished before the 28th Feb and began another contract in March that has been cut short by Covid -19 have been told by their employers they will not be eligible for the JRS.
Similarly, the Self-Employment Income Support scheme misses out thousands of people who are, de facto, working for themselves as a result of technicalities that fail to capture the spirit of the what you are trying to achieve. In particular:
- Many freelancers sell their services through Limited companies – indeed often they are required to do so by their clients. Yet because their, often minimal, earnings are split between salary and dividends, they are unlikely to receive enough to live on through the JRS.
- People who have set up as Self-Employed since April 2019 currently receive no coverage at all. These include many very talented, highly skilled, established professionals – who have simply changed status in the last year - as well as new entrants. Yet were they able to file their returns for this year – in just over a week’s time – would be demonstrably Self-Employed.
- Many TV ‘freelancers’ do a combination of both PAYE and Self-Employed work in any given year. Yet if the latter formed less than 50% of their income and happened not to be on a PAYE contract over 28th Feb, they will receive no support whatsoever.
Thousands of tax paying workers in TV are being told they are not eligible for the crucial financial support they need to survive.
The Talent Manager is writing to you now to draw your attention to the dire predicament workers in TV production currently find themselves in. We are seeking definitive guidance from Government as to how the Job Retention Scheme applies to our industry.
We welcomed that you said you would take a pragmatic approach to providing the safety net for the country, and so ask for some common-sense flexibility on the criteria for accessing these schemes.
Sarah Lee & Matt Born