The current global situation has turned the world on its head. Most governments have started taking measures to protect their citizens and the economy. However, these initiatives are often hard to understand, and in some cases there’s only limited Coronavirus support for freelancers.
It is no secret that the tourism, hospitality, and entertainment industries have been hit particularly hard, nor that a significant proportion of the workers in those industries are self-employed.
Whatever industry you’re in, this detailed article is intended to help you find what support is out there for you. Please take a moment to share it on social media so that it can help others.
The Impact on Freelancers
The television, newspapers, and the internet are full of stories about how freelancers are being impacted by COVID-19. These stories reveal how precarious their economic situation has become.
Statistics often do little to reveal the real suffering occurring, but I Lost My Gig Australia has compiled information to give an idea of the true scale. According to information from freelancers, 255,000 event cancellations in that country alone have affected 500,000 people. The lost income amounts to a whopping AU$280,000,000 (around US$169,000,000).
The general public does seem to grasp that some freelancers have found themselves with virtually no work. They are also slowly starting to recognise that there is no safety net in place for these people. Some governments have been slower to catch on.
To find out how they can receive any kind of help, freelancers have to wade through the myriad of posts about actual and proposed measures, and then try to figure out if any of it applies to them.
This is why we want to step in and try to ease your burden a little by providing concise information on what initiatives may provide some relief for freelancers.
– The global situation is changing daily and this is forcing governments to launch new initiatives all the time. While we will make best efforts to keep this article up to date, we do advise you use official sources in your own country and state as your key source of information. We have provided a huge number of links to such resources.
– We would love to be able to give information to freelancers everywhere. Unfortunately, there is simply no way that we can keep on top of all the developments in every country in the world.
As such, we have concentrated our efforts on the countries which are most represented amongst our readers: the United States of America, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and South Africa.
This does not mean that there are no government measures in other countries. France, for example, has set up a solidarity fund for self-employed people. So, please check your government’s websites to find out about initiatives where you live.
THESE ARE TIMES OF GREAT UNCERTAINTY AND MISINFORMATION ONLY SERVES TO FURTHER INCREASE STRESS LEVELS – ALWAYS VERIFY ANY ONLINE INFORMATION (INCLUDING OURS!) WITH OFFICIAL SOURCES.
United States of America
Here we provide information for the nation as a whole. Since state and local decisions will also have an impact on you during this time, we recommend that you visit each of their official sites to check for pertinent information. The government has created a centralised website to make accessing information easier.
Please make sure to rely only on official sources for your own safety and sanity. The Treasury Department is already warning of scams. There are reports of communications offering grants or stimulus payments in exchange for personal financial information or a fee. If you do receive any such communications, you are advised to contact the FBI.
Assistance for Individuals
This $2.2tn emergency relief package was signed on Friday the 27th of March and so details on implementation are limited. It does provide direct cash payments for every American citizen earning less than $99,000 per year. Most individuals should receive around $1,200 and it is estimated that a typical family of four will receive $3,400.
Deferred Federal Tax Payment
The government has now officially changed the April 15 filing deadline for federal taxes to July 15, 2020. This is automatic so no need to apply. However, the IRS is encouraging those who are due a refund to file as soon as possible. You can find more information here.
The IRS has temporarily closed all Taxpayer Assistance Centers, but continues to process tax returns, issue refunds and help taxpayers. If you need assistance or more information you can find it here. Please note that this is for federal taxes only, You should check with your state tax agencies for details about any changes in state taxes.
Grants and Loans
This scheme provides quick access to up to $25,000 to help small businesses who currently have a business relationship with an SBA Express Lender. These can be term loans or used to bridge the gap while applying to the Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program (below).
The CARES Act included the forgiveness of 6 months of loan payments on many Small Business Administration loans.
Since the CoronaVirus outbreak has been declared a disaster, you may be able to apply to the U.S. Small Business Administration for a low-interest federal disaster loan. You can apply here.
Self-employed individuals can use this loan program to cover certain eligible costs such as rent, utilities, and insurance premiums. The program is open until June 30th and you can look for participating lenders here.
Small Business Grants
Some cities are reportedly offering grants of up to $6,000 to businesses with fewer than five employees. Therefore, it could be worth your while to check in with your city’s Small Business Administration office.
Additional funding has been made available to states, outlying areas and Indian Tribal Governments to help workers affected by the crisis.
Self-employed individuals who are unemployed or underemployed as a result of the disaster can apply for disaster-relief employment and employment and training activities. You should check your state’s website for more information on the state Dislocated Worker program.
The government has directed Federal lenders to suspend student loan payments without penalty for at least the next 60 days. You should still contact your lender if you have a loan, to learn more about how and when this will be implemented.
The government has acted to allow greater flexibility to HDHPs, to provide health benefits for testing and treatment of COVID-19 without the application of a deductible or cost sharing. It is recommended that you consult your particular health plan to see what benefits apply and whether there will be any kind of deductible or cost sharing applied.
Self-employed individuals may be able to receive a credit for up to 80 hours of paid sick leave, and expanded paid child care leave.
This new legislation expands unemployment benefits and provides a budget of approximately $250 billion to cover the changes. Exact details of the implementation are not available yet but, hopefully, it will be applied to self-employed as well as workers. The Act should enable the unemployed to 100% of their salary for up to four months.
The government has been working with private companies to help cope with the current situation. Many telecommunication companies have responded by offering to increase data limits for customers. Some have even talked of suspending the termination of services for customers who cannot currently afford to pay bills.
You should check with your provider to see what measures they are taking.
Some cities are considering (and others have already approved) temporary bans on evictions. If you think you will have trouble paying your rent, then you should check with your city to see where it stands on the matter.
The UK situation is complex. While there is now considerable Coronavirus support for freelancers in the UK who work as sole traders, there are limits, thresholds and exceptions that still leave some people with next to no incentives.
The dedicated government website is a good place to look for the latest information. There is also a helpline specifically for the self-employed and small businesses, which you can reach by calling 0300 456 3565.
Lastly, a free GOV.UK Coronavirus Information Service has been created on WhatsApp: add 07860 064422 in your phone contacts, and then message the word ‘hi’ in a WhatsApp message to get started.
We will also try to point out what measures could help ease your pain.
Whilst most measures are UK-wide, and we will be focusing on those, you should definitely check on your own country’s government website. The governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are all taking local measures to help their economies.
Most of these will be similar to what Westminster announces. Even so, some might be friendlier to freelancers as a recent BBC article suggests.
Assistance Specifically for Freelancers in the UK
Self-employed individuals and members of partnerships who have lost income due to the current crisis can now claim a taxable grant worth 80% of their trading profits up to a maximum of £2,500 per month for the next 3 months. If you wish to claim a grant you can get more information here.
Payments due on the 31 July 2020 will be deferred until the 31 January 2021. You do not need to apply and no penalties or interest for late payment will be charged in the deferral period.
Value Added Tax is being deferred from the 20th of March until the 30th of June, 2020. You do not need to apply for this benefit. Taxpayers will be given until the end of the 2020 to 2021 tax year to pay any liabilities that have accumulated during the deferral period. VAT refunds and reclaims will be paid by the government as normal.
It’s worth noting that if, like many people, you pay your VAT by direct debit, you will need to cancel this, otherwise the payment will be taken as normal.
HMRC has set up a central helpline to assist businesses and self-employed people who are in temporary financial distress and have outstanding tax liabilities. HMRC has pledged to assist with instalment plans and the suspension of debt collection proceedings. The number for their helpline is 0800 0159 559.
£500 million will go to local authorities in England to enable them to reduce the 2020 to 2021 council tax bills of working-age people receiving Local Council Tax Support.
ESA and Universal Credit
In recognition of the fact that freelancers might also get sick or have to care for someone that is sick, the government has made it easier to access welfare benefits, acted to speed up the process of receiving benefits, and suspended the Minimum Income Floor.
There are still requirements, however. To be eligible for Employment Support Allowance you need to have made sufficient National Insurance contributions and Universal Credit requires you to have been self-employed for a minimum period of time. You can get an overview of the situation here, or you can go to the Understanding Universal Credit website to get more details and to find out how to apply.
Grants, Rates, and Loans
Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme
The government will provide lenders with a guarantee of 80% on each loan to enable businesses greater access to loans. The government will also pay the interest on the loan for the first 12 months. This is being delivered through the British Business Bank and more details are available here.
The government has introduced a business rates holiday for retail, hospitality, and leisure businesses. This will apply to your next council tax bill.
Retail and Hospitality Grant Scheme
Once again, this only applies to England. If you are eligible then you will be contacted by your local authority. The latest guidance from the government is available here.
Support for Businesses that receive Small Business Rates Relief or Exemptions
Local authorities in England will contact eligible small businesses to provide them a one-off £10,000 or £25,000 grant. This applies to businesses with physical premises that are required to pay rates or qualify for rates relief. The latest guidance from the government is available here.
If you will not be able to file your company accounts on time, you can apply to Companies House for an automatic and immediate three month extension and thereby avoid the automatic penalty applied by law.
If you live in rented accommodation and expect to have difficulty paying rent, the UK government has announced emergency legislation to ban evictions for at least three months. Obviously, open communication with your landlord is crucial but the government has also put measures in place to help protect them. The latest guidelines for landlords and tenants are available here.
No business will automatically forfeit their lease and be forced out of their premises if they miss a payment up until 30 June. This is protection from eviction, not a rental holiday. All commercial tenants in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland are eligible.
Most insurance policies are unlikely to cover the current situation. However if your policy covers government ordered closures or event cancellations, you may be able to make a claim since the government ordered different businesses and venues to remain closed from 21st March onwards.
Check your insurance policy to see if you might be able to make a claim.
The Canadian government has made it easy to access information through its official site. It’s one of the very few countries that’s seem to have made a concerted effort to try to include freelancers from the start. This may not be perfect, but it is better than what the citizens of many other countries are facing.
The government will provide a taxable benefit of $2,000 a month for up to 4 months to self-employed individuals who would not otherwise be eligible for Employment Insurance. This benefit replaces the previously announced Emergency Care Benefit and the Emergency Support Benefit.
The government has proposed increasing the maximum annual payment amounts by $300 per child during the 2019-20 benefit year. Families that qualify will receive an extra $300 per child as part of their May payment.
Emergency Care Benefit Now replaced by CERB
This is a new benefit being administered through the Canada Revenue Agency to help those who do not qualify for Employment Insurance.
If you are quarantined or sick with COVID-19, are caring for a family member who is sick, or are a parent with children who require care or supervision due to school or day-care closures, you may be eligible for a $900 bi-weekly payment for up to 15 weeks, if you are unable to earn employment income . This benefit specifically includes the self-employed.
The Canada Revenue Agency is deferring the filing due date for 2019 tax returns until June 1, 2020.
However, if you expect to receive benefits under Goods and Services Tax Credit or Canada Child Benefit, they recommend that you do not delay filing. To make filing easier and safer, they are also temporarily accepting electronic signatures on authorization forms T183 and T183CORP.
Any income tax amounts that become owing on or after the 21st of March and before September 2020 will be deferred until after August 31, 2020.
Businesses, including self-employed individuals, will be allowed to defer until June 30, 2020 payments of the Goods and Services Tax / Harmonized Sales Tax (GST/HST), as well as customs duties owing on their imports.
If you receive GSTC benefits, the Government is proposing a one-time special payment in early May. It is estimated that this will be a boost of close to $400 for an individual and close to $600 for couples.
Eligible small employers will be able to reduce the remittances of income tax withheld on their employees’ remuneration. This is up to a maximum of $1,375 per employee and $25,000 per employer. This measure is designed to help businesses facing revenue loss, and to help prevent lay-offs.
This program provides more than $10 billion to the Business Development Bank of Canada and Export Development Canada. It’s to help support the provision of credit to small and medium businesses.
You cannot apply directly to this program, but it will hopefully mean that private sector lenders will be more willing to work with you on finding credit solutions to help you cope. So if you need help, now is the time to reach out.
This is a program which, again, does not benefit you directly, but could mean that lenders are more willing to work with you on your credit issues. Through this program the government provides some long-term stable funding to banks and mortgage lenders to facilitate their continued lending to Canadian consumers and businesses.
The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) is providing increased flexibility to permit lenders to allow payment deferrals on homeowner CMHC-insured mortgage loans.
Banks have confirmed their willingness to work with clients to support them with up to a six-month payment deferral for mortgages. You need to contact your lender, as decisions on relief on mortgages and other credit products will be made on a case by case basis by the lenders.
The government declared a six-month interest-free moratorium on the repayment of Canada Student Loans for all student loan borrowers, effective March 30.
Some provinces are considering and others have already approved temporary bans on evictions. If you think you will have trouble paying the rent, you should check with your local authority to see how the matter stands in your area.
The Australian Government´s website has perhaps the most visually appealing presentation of information during the current crisis. You can now also download the official government “Coronavirus Australia” app from all the usual app stores.
But pretty window dressing isn’t going to cut it. The reaction to their first round of initiatives showed this clearly. Thankfully, the second set of economic responses has done more to provide coronavirus support for freelancers and gig workers in Australia.
If you think any of the following could help you, please follow the link to the relevant government fact sheet. The fact sheets provide a lot of information and include some very helpful examples to help you understand how these initiatives will work.
A digital agency on the Central Coast in Australia has also been putting together a website with information regarding the stimulus packages. They are including state-level information and we know that this could be of great benefit to you. You can check out their website here. Do remember that, like us, they are not an official government site and that you should verify any information you find.
Support for Individuals
Sole traders, the self-employed, casual workers, and contract workers who meet income tests and have been affected by coronavirus can apply for a supplement through Jobseeker Payment and Youth Allowance Jobseeker.
The supplement is to be paid at a rate of $550 per fortnight. Payments will commence from 27 April 2020 and this temporary expansion of eligibility is expected to last 6 months. You can get more information about registering a claim here.
The new safety net package of $1.1 billion announced by the Prime Minister provides emergency relief to help vulnerable Australians who need assistance with bills, food, clothing or petrol. It provides for greater financial counselling services and the expansion of access to safe, affordable financial products.
The government is working to put all evictions on hold for 6 months. Full details are not yet available but landlords and renters are encouraged to talk about short term agreements.
The government has created the Jobs Hub to help Australians who are looking for work. You can go to the site and search for jobs with the government and other employers. It also allows you to filter the job opportunities by location.
The ATO will provide administrative relief for certain tax obligations, including the ability to defer payment of certain taxes for up to 6 months. If you need help you can contact the ATO on 1800 806 218 or visit the ATO website.
Support for Businesses
Small and medium sized businesses can benefit from a tax free payment to help them keep operating. The payments will range from $10,000 to $50,000. To be eligible they must employ workers and have an aggregated annual turnover under $50 million.
The payment is automatically calculated by the Australian Taxation Office.
This measure increases the threshold at which creditors can issues a statutory demand, the threshold for a creditor to initiate bankruptcy proceedings, and enables businesses to continue trading while insolvent.
The goal is to keep businesses operating so that things can get back to normal more rapidly once this crisis passes.
Unfortunately this is another measure aimed primarily at bigger businesses, but we are including it in the off-chance that some might benefit. The threshold for instant asset write-off is being increased from $30,000 to $150,000.
The government has introduced several measures to encourage lenders to help businesses and households.
For freelancers, the most significant of these is probably the Coronavirus SME Guarantee Scheme ,through which the government will provide a guarantee of 50% to SME lenders for new unsecured loans to be used for working capital. If you do need new credit or help paying back existing credit then you should contact your lender.
Coronavirus Scams in Australia
Sadly, the Australian government is also having to give warnings about scams.
Text messages, which appear to be from the government, are asking those who receive the message to click on a link, which looks fairly legitimate, to get more information about getting tested for the virus.
Clicking on the link may install malicious software on your device designed to steal your bank details. If you are concerned you should contact your financial institution immediately. If you have suffered an actual loss you should report it to ReportCyber.
When I first drafted this post there was next to no information on government initiatives to provide coronavirus support for freelancers (or anybody else) in South Africa.
Unlike in other countries, the government of South Africa seems to prefer to hold off on talking about initiatives until they are ready to be implemented. Try not to let this make you feel like nothing is being done. The government is clearly taking this seriously and is seems to br working much harder than many other governments to consult and coordinate their efforts with the private sector.
The government has provided a helpline on 0800-029-999, a Whatsapp support group on 0600 123 456, and a new informational website. However, the regular government website is still a better source of information on economic initiatives at this time.
Telkom, in response to the current situation, is offering free public access to the government website.
Assistance for Individuals
SASSA will pay social grants to older persons and persons with disabilities from 30 and 31 March 2020. The other beneficiaries will be able to access their grants from 1 April 2020. Beneficiaries can contact SASSA on 0800 60 10 11 and through the SASSA social media (@OfficialSASSA) for further information and enquiries.
Assistance for Businesses in Distress
There are no apparent measures to cover freelancers at the time of writing.
If you do happen to have an employee they may be entitled to leave provisions as set out in the Basic Conditions of Employment Act or they can get help through the COVID-19 Temporary Employer/Employee Relief Scheme, in the case that you cannot afford to pay them. The Unemployment Insurance Fund Call Centre can be reached at 012 337 1997 from 8 AM until 8 PM, Monday to Friday, if you have questions.
Small, micro and medium enterprises who can demonstrate that Covid-19 has impacted their business operations can apply for relief on existing debts and repayments. You will need to enrol on the SMME South Africa platform.
Tax compliant businesses with a turnover of less than R50 million will be allowed to delay 20% of their pay-as-you-earn liabilities over the next four months, and a portion of their provisional corporate income tax payments, without penalties or interest over the next six months.
The government has made over R500 million available immediately to assist small and medium enterprises in distress, via a simplified application process.
R200 million has been made available to assist SMEs in the tourism and hospitality sector who are under particular stress due to the new travel restrictions. The criteria for eligibility is quite extensive and you can find more details here.
Shopping mall tenants who are competitors will be able to meet and to reach agreements with shopping mall owners in order to address matters such as payment holidays, rental discounts, and limitations on evictions.
The government has put forward several tax measures to help in the current situation. These measures are part of the Disaster Management Tax Relief Bill and the Disaster Management Tax Relief Administration Bill. The bills will be tabled for retrospective enactment when Parliament re-convenes later this year, but drafts of the bills should be published today by the National Treasury and SARS. The measures include a tax subsidy to employers of up to R500 per month for the next four months, acceleration of the payment of employment tax incentive reimbursements from twice a year to monthly, and allowing some tax compliant businesses to delay 20% of their employees’ tax liabilities over the next four months and a portion of their provisional corporate income tax payments without penalties or interest over the next six months.
Flow of Credit
Commercial banks have been exempted from provisions of the Competition Act to enable them to develop common approaches to debt relief and other necessary measures.
Measures which they are to consider include payment holidays and debt relief for businesses and individual citizens, limitations set on asset repossessions of business and individual citizens, and the extension of credit lines to individuals and businesses.
If the current situation has created financial stress for you or your business you should contact your bank to see if you can benefit from any of these measures.
The government has been coordinating with federations and societies. The government has allocated over R150 million to provide relief to practitioners in the sector, announced a partnership with the DSAC Playhouses to create live streaming programmes, worked to ensure the payment of royalties, and is calling on broadcasters to play more locally produced content. Additional details are available here.
Taxis that have been financed by National Taxi Finance, administered by the Small Enterprise Finance Agency (SEFA), will be granted a three month repayment holiday. Commercial banks are also considering similar measures.
This fund has been established so that South African businesses, organisations and individuals, as well as members of the international community, can make contributions to help during the current crisis.
The Fund will focus on efforts to combat and track the spread of the virus, and providing care for those who are ill and support for those whose lives are disrupted. The government provided seed capital of R150 million.
The government has said it is developing a safety net to support persons in the informal sector, where most businesses will suffer as a result of this shutdown. Details are not available yet but keep checking the government website.
Reasons not to Lose Hope
Researching this article revealed that while most countries have lots of initiatives in place, there are still some glaring gaps. In some ways coronavirus support for freelancers remains minimal.
Even so, in difficult times it is worth looking for any silver linings you can find among the looming storm clouds.
Politicians are still pressing their governments to do more and recent new legislation in the UK and South Africa show that there is an increasing awareness of the need to protect the self-employed. We are going to keep checking official sources for additional incentives, and so should you.
What gave me most hope was seeing that even if governments are slow to react to our needs, third parties are not. I found several offers which could be of help, and I am sure that there are many more.
Below is a quick sampling to give you an idea of the breadth of support out there and to encourage you to check your niches to see what is going on.
Third Party Support for Freelancers
– Freelancers everywhere are putting up lists of grants and other possible funds for those in their niches. Some, like the Freelance Co-Op are even creating their own small emergency funds to help out.
– I have found multiple GoFundMe initiatives to support struggling freelancers and ConvertKit has created a fund offering $500 each to creatives to help them out.
– Similarly, The Freelancers Union has launched a great initiative with grants of up to $1000 per freelance household.
– Although Uber has been at the centre of many storms of late, it is one of the gig economy companies that is stepping up. Uber is offering 14 days of financial assistance to any driver or delivery-person that is diagnosed or is individually asked to self‑isolate by a public health authority.
We are freelancers by choice and will continue to be so.
Even so, extraordinary times do sometimes call for extraordinary measures.
It might be worth looking out for other work opportunities to help you keep afloat. Not every business is closed down or having employees work from home. Some businesses simply can’t. While the jobs available right now may not be your dream job, they are vital to keeping our countries operating and could provide a financial safety net for your family.
Despite all our complaints about crazy panicking buying and the disappearance of all the toilet roll on the entire planet, we are now seeing some retail businesses like Aldi, Hendersons Group, Walmart and Amazon launching huge recruitment drives.
We are all navigating through difficult and uncharted waters. But we do not need to do so alone.
While many freelancers may be more used to social isolation than most, please remember that it is normal to be stressed out by what is happening. Take care of your work but, more importantly, take care of your health and that of your family. Reach out to others and seek help if you need it.
If you become aware of any new initiatives that provide Coronavirus support for freelancers, please do let us know so that we can share that information. Let’s all help take care of each other during these difficult times.