The UK government is advising thousands of people to self-isolate in an attempt to prevent the spread of coronavirus COVID-19 – but where does this leave freelancers who may be unable to work during a period of self-isolation?

freelancer working from home in self-isolation

Update – Friday 27th March 2020

Last night the Chancellor Rishi Sunak unveiled the government’s package to help support the self-employed during the coronavirus crisis.

The Self-Employed Income Support Scheme will pay self-employed workers 80% of their average monthly profits over the last three years. The taxable grants will be limited to £2,500 per month, and the scheme will be open for three months initially.

The scheme is only open to those with trading profits up to £50,000 per year who make the majority of their income from self-employment. It will also only be available to those who submitted a tax return for 2019 as a way to minimise fraud.

Read more: Chancellor Rishi Sunak unveils support package for self-employed workers affected by coronavirus

Update – Friday 20th March 2020

The Chancellor Rishi Sunak today announced an unprecedented package of support for UK employees.

Businesses will now be able to claim back 80% of all staff’s wages, up to a limit of £2,500, for at least the next three months.

Although this is good news for businesses and PAYE employees, there was not much to celebrate for the UK’s 5 million self-employed workers, freelancers and contractors.

Mr Sunak did address the concerns of the self-employed, but the only measure taken to help them was to provide full access to the Universal Credit system. This means self-employed workers are now eligible to claim benefits equivalent to Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) – which is £94.25 per week.

Read more: Self-employed workers to be paid equivalent of Statutory Sick Pay during coronavirus pandemic – but is it enough?

Update – Wednesday 4th March 2020

The Prime Minister has today promised that sick pay will be available from day one for workers with suspected coronavirus, and hinted there may be further measures introduced to prevent freelancers and gig economy workers losing pay due to self-isolation.

Boris Johnson said the government are temporarily changing the rules for Statutory Sick Pay to make it available from the first day off sick, rather than the fourth day.

However, the new policy does nothing to help self-employed workers, who still face the prospect of choosing between losing pay during self-isolation periods or continuing to work, and risk spreading the disease further.

Johnson did hint that there could be further measures introduced that would help self-employed and freelance workers.

Speaking at today’s Prime Minister’s Questions, Mr Johnson said:

“We will take every step we can to make sure that … no one whether employed or self-employed – whatever the status of their employment – is penalised for doing the right thing.”

Income protection insurance for the self-employed

Create Insurance have partnered with Vitality to offer income protection and life insurance for freelancers and the self-emloyed

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The Health Secretary Matt Hancock has recommended self-isolation for people returning home from quarantined areas in northern Italy, even if they are showing no symptoms of infection. This has led to school and business closures in some parts of England, with more disruption expected in the coming weeks.

Part of the government’s advice has been to send guidance to employers that staff who have been asked to self-isolate are entitled to take that time as sick leave. But what about self-employed workers? There are currently around 5 million self-employed workers in the UK, all of whom do not have employment benefits such as sick leave and holiday pay. A two-week period of self-isolation in which they are unable to work could have severe repercussions on their income.

What can freelancers do to prepare?

As there is currently no official help or advice for self-employed workers, the only action to take is to prepare as much as possible for the potential disruption. As the old saying goes: hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.

The first thing that may spring to mind is income protection insurance. Many self-employed workers have a policy in place to make sure they and their family would still have an income if an illness or injury were to prevent them from working. However, as most income protection policies have a deferred period of four weeks – which means they only pay out if you are unable to work for more than four weeks – they are unlikely to apply to a period of self-isolation. If you go on to contract coronavirus and are forced to have an extended period of time off work, then you could be eligible to make a claim on your income protection policy.

So it seems there are only two courses of action for self-employed people – do your best to avoid self-isolation, and plan work tasks that you can do at home so your self-isolation can be as productive as possible.

How to avoid self-isolation

For the most part this is out of your control. If the staff at a workplace you’ve recently visited are advised to self-isolate, for example, or your children are sent home from school, then you will probably be advised to self-isolate as well.

All you can do is avoid travelling to places that are on the Foreign Office’s list: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/travel-advice-novel-coronavirus – so that you can avoid being ordered into quarantine or self-isolation on your return.

As some people are being advised by the NHS to self-isolate if they are displaying flu-like symptoms, you should also follow the best practices when it comes to hygiene (e.g. wash your hands regularly, clean surfaces such as keyboards, phones and door handles regularly) to avoid catching any other bugs that might trigger a self-isolation recommendation.

Plan work you can do at home

For the many freelancers who already work from home, two weeks of ‘self-isolation’ would not make much of a difference. However, if you are unable to do most of your work from home e.g. if you need to visit clients or work on-site, then self-isolation could have an impact on your income.

The only way to lessen the damage is to try and make your period of self-isolation as productive as possible. If you have any ‘admin’ tasks outstanding that can wait, then delay them for a bit longer so you can pick them up if you have to self-isolate. At this point, you should be thinking about delaying any non-urgent task that you can do at home, so it can be done if you end up having to self-isolate.

This could include:

  • Invoicing
  • Bookkeeping
  • Research and planning
  • Social media activity
  • Tax returns (organising receipts, invoices etc.)
  • Review business plans
  • Marketing activity
  • Review expenses – products, tools, software etc.
  • Organise your calendar
  • Educate yourself – read books and blogs about your industry, listen to podcasts etc.

We will be keeping this post updated as and when new advice, guidance or information becomes available. If you have any questions, or your own tips for self-isolation if you are self-employed, join the discussion over on Facebook and Twitter.

Income protection insurance for the self-employed

Create Insurance have partnered with Vitality to offer income protection and life insurance for freelancers and the self-employed

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