Coronavirus FAQs for the Self Employed – 18 March 2020

Posted on March 18, 2020

Q: As a self-employed agent or self-employed consultant, can I claim Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) or any other sick pay if I am unable to carry out work or fulfil a contract due to being infected with Coronavirus

Ordinarily, self-employed agents and/or consultants are not entitled to receive SSP and this is in fact one of many factors that sets them apart from 'employees' and some workers who are entitled to be paid this by their employer. However, following the budget announcement on 11th March 2020, one of the measures to mitigate the coronavirus impact on businesses included that those who are self-employed will be able to claim contributory Employment Support Allowance (ESA).

Such an allowance will be available from day one, although it is not known at this stage the exact process to be followed in trying to claim the allowance. However the following link may well assist you until the government provide further information on process - https://www.gov.uk/employment-support-allowance/how-to-claim

Q: Am I entitled to any SSP or ESA if I have to self-isolate or am told by the company/organisation that I am doing work for, not to come in due to coronavirus fears?

As at 13th March 2020, the government has stated that an employee or worker should receive any SSP due to them if they need to self-isolate because they have:

  • coronavirus (usually 14 days of self-isolation)
  • a high temperature or new continuous cough (usually 7 days of self-isolation)
  • been told to self-isolate by a doctor or NHS 111

Unfortunately, at this stage, it is not clear whether the above position also applies to those who are purely 'self-employed' and also whether it includes the payments of ESA.

If you have been asked by the company/organisation you are doing work for to refrain from coming in, the starting point will be to look at the terms of the service contract/agreement that you have with them. In particular, are there clauses within it that set out the position on what will or will not be paid in circumstances where you fall ill or there is a pandemic or epidemic?

Even if you have to self-isolate, it may be that you do not in fact have any symptoms yourself, in which case you may still be perfectly capable of continuing your work from home. If this is the case, you should make it clear to the company/organisation and also make clear your expectation that they will continue to pay you your usual rate/invoices.

Q: I am self-employed and engaged in a lot of work that requires travel to a lot of the high-risk areas where coronavirus has been detected. If I refuse to travel to such areas this will mean that I cannot complete the work, I have contracted to do and will not get paid.

Would I be able to claim this non-payment from either the company/organisation I am contracted to do the work for, the government or indemnity insurers?

The starting point will be to firstly look through the terms of your service contract/agreement as to whether it outlines what will or will not be paid by the company/organisation in such circumstances. Given that the government has advised against all but essential travel to some countries, cities and regions, your refusal should not be deemed unreasonable.

Also, it is possible that some countries, cities and regions will close down certain businesses and also place restrictions on leaving and entering in which case you may have no choice but to place your work on hold.

In terms of the government, depending on the nature of your self-employed status, you may benefit from another measure that was announced as part of the budget on 13th March 2020, the Business interruption loan scheme. This is a temporary scheme for banks to offer loans of up to £1.2m to support small and medium-sized businesses and will only apply during the period of the coronavirus outbreak. It is however unclear at this stage how businesses can go about applying for the scheme.

The government is set to bring in emergency legislation/a bill that will hopefully help to clarify and give more certainty on what further support will be provided. In the meantime the following link may assist - https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/guidance-to-employers-and-businesses-about-covid-19/covid-19-support-for-businesses

From an insurance perspective, the UK government has now classified the coronavirus as a "notifiable disease" in England and Wales, which is a requirement within insurance policies to attract cover. Scotland and Northern Ireland adopted the classification in February. However, it is worth noting that some policies may contain specific exclusions for epidemics and pandemics, with others having strict limits on the possible covers that could respond.

If you are considering making an insurance claim, you should also be aware that the terms of the policy will compel you to mitigate your losses where reasonably practicable and to act as a "prudent" Insured. Ultimately the best thing to do is to check the specific wording of your insurance policy and seek guidance from your insurance broker and/or insurer.

If there is a downturn in work or the company/organisation I carry out work for has to close down completely because of the coronavirus outbreak, where would I stand regarding being paid for the work I still have to complete?

This will again be very much dependent on what terms have been agreed in the service contract/agreement you have with the company/organisation. You certainly should at the very least be paid for the work you have carried out and completed up to that particular point, provided of course that you have supplied the necessary invoices.

Anything beyond this, i.e. the outstanding work that is yet to be completed may well come down to negotiation or that it is agreed by both parties that in the circumstances work is postponed or placed on hold until there is more certainty as to when the work will pick up again.

Q: I am a self-employed agent, I have no symptoms, have not travelled anywhere that is high risk and have not come in to contact with anyone who has either travelled to a high-risk place or got the symptoms. Nevertheless, I do not want to take the risk and have decided to cancel all work projects until the outbreak dies down. Given that this is a situation outside of my control can I still get paid for the work I would have carried out if not for the outbreak?

Unless the company/organisation you are carrying out the work for is on complete lockdown, it is highly likely that they will still expect you to complete the work they are paying you for, unless of course you contract the virus or start displaying virus symptoms.

You also have to consider the fact that, if you simply refuse to go in or turn up, the company/organisation may argue that it is a breach of contract and may look to sue you for any losses that they incur as a result of you not carrying out the work you are contracted to do.

It is understandable and natural that you may be feeling anxious and fearful at this time, however we would advise that you in the first instance share any concerns that you have with the organisation/company as it may be, following such discussion, you are reassured that actually the risks are minimal given any measures they may be putting in to place and be able to go in to work after all.

In addition, it may not be necessary to have a complete stop on work as depending on the nature of the work, you may have the facility to complete it from home, meaning you still get paid and the organisation/company get the work they need completed.

Q: What happens if I cannot perform my work/services due to school closures affecting my children, could I still ask for payment?

Whilst companies/organisations should be as flexible as possible at this time , you need to be prepared for the fact that any one day you are not carrying out the work required, is any on day where the company/organisation say they will not make any payment to you.

Even with being an 'employee' this would be the case, as although an 'employee' is entitled to take time off for dependents, i.e. where there has been an unexpected disruption to the arrangements to care for the dependant, an incident at school, or where the dependant is ill, such time is unpaid.

Therefore, there is no reason why it would be different with 'non-employees' unless of course there is anything in your service contract/agreement to the contrary.

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This article was written by rradar.

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