PAYE workers whose contracts recently ended can now be re-hired and furloughed

Road to Palmyra, 052 ©  Bright Yellow FilmsOxford Films, behind the scenes

HMRC’s fifth update to the guidance in four weeks has been welcomed by Bectu and Pact

Yet another update to HMRC’s guidance could now pave the way for freelancers to get financial support where previously they were left behind, as Pact updates its advice to indies.

Last night, HMRC changed its Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (JRS) guidelines for the fifth time in four weeks.

It now appears that freelancers engaged via PAYE whose contracts had ended in the past few weeks can be re-hired then immediately furloughed onto the scheme.

Bectu head Philippa Childs welcomed the Treasury’s “timely response” to its lobbying late last weekend, following a month of back-and-forth between industry bodies and the government.

The JRS guidance now says fixed-term contract staffers can be re-hired then furloughed if:

  • their contract expired after 28 February and a payment submission for the employee was notified to HMRC on or before that date
  • their contract expired after 19 March 2020 and payment submission for the employee was notified to HMRC on or before that date

People whose contracts ran in the two-week period between 28 February and 19 March could still miss out.

The guidance also reaffirms that if a person’s contract has not already expired, it can be extended or renewed.

The move should pave the way for many more freelancers to get help.

The previous HMRC update, made last Friday afternoon just a few hours before the JRS portal opened, stated that if someone’s contract had ended “because it is not extended or renewed before its natural conclusion, you will no longer be able to claim”.

Pact follows suit

This morning, Pact updated its guidance in line with the changes initiated by HMRC. 

A rift had been developing between the indie trade body and some in the freelance community after Pact spoke with a Treasury official two weeks ago and subsequently told producers they could only re-hire then furlough those whose contracts had been “directly disrupted” by the Covid-19 outbreak.

Some indies are understood to have subsequently reneged on re-hiring as they waited for more clarity.

Pact said last night: “We appreciate this is frustrating for members but Pact is pleased to note that a number of areas of ambiguity have been addressed. Generally, the guidance of HMRC seems clearer now and has addressed a number of issues for members that Pact had raised with HMRC.

“In particular, we now have confirmation that employees on fixed-term contracts are not excluded from the scheme just because their contract may have expired, which is very positive news.”

This issue has been compounded by HMRC’s constantly changing advice, and the fact that its customer service twitter account appeared to have been giving completely contradictory advice to individual requests at times.

The saga, which the lobbyists will be hoping has now been put right and will not need further updates, is demonstrative of the immense complexity of creating a catch-all system to support the UK’s 5 million-strong freelance workforce, with each industry engaging the self-employed in different ways.

When Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced the two main government schemes, he posited that 5% would miss out on support, but the figure has appeared to be far higher for the TV community.