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How can photographers access the UK government's self-employed coronavirus support?

How can photographers access the UK government's self-employed coronavirus support?
Image supplied by Martin Cheung (Image credit: Martin Cheung)

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to rewrite the landscape of our lives, many professional self-employed photographers in the UK have been forced to reassess their financial situation now that they don't have any new shoots on the horizon to pay their bills. 

However, last week the UK government announced new emergency financial measures to support workers who are self-employed during the coronavirus outbreak, offering to pay 80% of monthly profits. However, there are a few criteria that will need to be fulfilled in order to qualify for this assistance.

• Read more: Everything photographers need to work from home

As we covered in a previous article, the lockdowns and quarantines caused by COVID-19 has meant huge disruption to photographers across the world, with weddings and events being cancelled right as most photographers' busy seasons were about to begin. Here at Digital Camera World, we can't help but wonder how the UK's newly announced self-employed financial package will affect photographers in need.

Are photographers eligible for government support?

In short, yes – but there are some caveats that might affect you. We've broken down the main criteria you'll need to qualify for the UK government's coronavirus support here.

To be eligible, you must:

• Earn more than half your income from self-employment
• Are trading when you apply, or would be except for COVID-19
• Have lost trading/partnership trading profits due to COVID-19
• Have submitted your Income Tax Self Assessment tax return for 2018/2019
• Have a trading profit of less than £50,000 for 2018/2019 OR an average trading profit of less than £50,000 for the tax year 2016/17, 2017/18 and 2018/19.

If you have not submitted your Income Tax Self-Assessment tax return for the tax year 2018/19, the deadline has now been extended until 23 April 2020 – if you want to apply for this financial assistance, you must ensure that you've completed your 2018/19 tax return.

If you do qualify, the government will pay you a grant for 80% of the average profits from 2016-2019, up to £2,500 a month for three months. This will take the form of a lump sum payment that will be paid directly into your bank account.

You cannot apply for this scheme yet – HMRC will contact you if you're eligible for the scheme and invite you to apply online. 

To find out more information, check out the official government website.

Weddings and events have been cancelled for the foreseeable future, causing financial difficulty for many photographers

Weddings and events have been cancelled for the foreseeable future, causing financial difficulty for many photographers (Image credit: Martin Cheung)

What do photographers think?

Now that the details of the UK government's financial package has been announced, we asked photographers what they thought of the scheme.

Some professional photographers are happy to see the proposed financial package. Bristol-based wedding photographer Damian Wills says: "I think it's a really good initiative from the government… Overall my feeling is [that] the support is excellent, but should have been put in place months ago when we could see what was happening in China and Italy."

However, other photographers have noticed a few holes in the scheme. Martin Cheung, a wedding photographer based in Nottingham and Derby, says: "The main issue I see is for those photographers who have chosen to work via a limited company [as] directors and have taken most of their income as dividends. The current government scheme does not cover them and they are treated as employees, which means the help they get is low since they get most of their income via dividends… 

"[The government] could easily fix this if they wanted to. They could simply extend the scheme to include limited companies where there's only one or two employees who are also both directors. Since dividend income is included in the self assessment, this should not be hard to calculate.

"The official line is that it's hard to separate dividend income from the company from other dividend income. But given the income cap, I can't see this being a big problem."

Meanwhile, some photographers have taken issue with the long wait until they receive payment. Laura Wilson is a wedding and family photographer from LeopardPrints Photography: "The struggle is the time it will take to get the help to the self-employed… Those of us that have 'lost' all [of] our weddings until July have no income from now. It's just been the quieter part of the year, so finances were on the lean side as the industry ramps up leading to spring/summer. What do we live off inbetween?"

Another difficulty is the fact that the scheme is based on 80% of a person's profits, not their net. Emily from Emily Mudie Photography says: "My first ever year of self employment was 2017-18 and, as expected, the first year profits were not very big and I used them to invest in camera gear and lighting for my business so I could grow. My second year was much better with greater profits, but because they base it on an average… my first year drastically brings down my average because my profits were invested."

Where do photographers go from here?

While the UK government's unprecedented level of financial support is clearly gratefully appreciated, there are still some issues that need to ironed out to ensure that small businesses, including photographers, are protected as the UK continues to feel the effects from the coronavirus lockdown.

With the news that almost a fifth of UK small businesses are at risk of collapsing within the next month due to difficulties securing emergency cash meant to support them through the coronavirus lockdown, it's clear that there's still work to be done to ensure financial stability for all. We hope that the government will be reacting to the loopholes highlighted by businesses to help more people access the help that they need.

If you're a photographer who's been affected by the coronavirus lockdown, we'd like to hear about your experience. Join the conversation in the comments below.

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