Published on: 12 March 2020 in Industry

COVID-19 (Coronavirus) FAQs for Directors UK members

Reading time: 30 minutes and 21 seconds

As well as posing a threat to physical wellbeing, COVID-19 (Coronavirus) has already had an impact on the professional circumstances of directors and other freelancers in the screen industries. 

We have produced a resource page with expert advice on coping with COVID-19 from a health and employment perspective — you can find it on our homepage or by clicking this link. Below, we have also compiled our own answers to any frequently asked questions that relate to Directors UK, employment rules specific to directors and freelancers, and travel. You can navigate this page via the links below. 


Support for Freelancers and Self-Employed Workers

The situation with regards to support for freelance workers is fast-moving, with new information coming in all the time. The responses below reflect what we know as of 1 April 2020, and will be updated as and when the situation changes. 

What is the government’s Self-Employed Income Support Scheme, and how do I apply for it? 

The Self-Employed Income Support Scheme has been introduced by the government to allow self-employed workers who have lost profits as a result of coronavirus to claim a direct cash grant of 80% of their profits, up to £2,500 a month. 

In order to be eligible for the scheme, you must: 

  • Be self-employed or in a partnership; 
  • Have lost profits due to COVID-19; 
  • Have filed a tax return for 2018-19 as self-employed. 
  • Have traded in 2019-20; be currently trading at the point of application (or would be except for COVID-19) and intend to continue to trade in the tax year 2020 to 2021 
  • Have trading profits of less than £50,000
  • Have more than half of your total income come from self-employment. This will be calculated either from your trading profits and total income in 2018/19 or from the average of your trading profits between 2016-17, 2017-18, and 2018-19. (Payments will be calculated depending on 1, 2 or 3 years of data as available.) 

HMRC will contact you if you are eligible for the scheme and invite you to apply online. The scheme may not be up and running until June 2020.

Are directors of limited companies covered by the scheme? What support is there for directors of limited companies?

Those operating their businesses as limited companies are not covered by the Self-Employed Income Support scheme, but can access Business Interruption Loans, and can Furlough Leave employees and themselves (but not if you are only receiving dividends) under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, but only if they were on the payroll and on PAYE on 28 February 2020. Under the Job Retention Scheme, if a freelance director is furloughed by a hirer, or furloughs themselves under their own limited company, they aren’t allowed to do any other paid work during the furlough period. Self-furloughing will compensate the director for the salary they take, but does not cover their dividends.

We also understand that if your PAYE salary is low (i.e. less than 50% of your income, which might primarily then consist of dividend payments), dividend income is not eligible under the Self-Employed Income Support Scheme. But your salaried earnings under PAYE will be eligible under the Job Retention Scheme.

If you pay yourself only in dividends then you are not eligible for support under either the Job Retention Scheme or the Self-Employed Income Support Scheme.

I’ve heard IR35 tax rules are changing from April 2020. How will this affect me?

The Government has already announced that it is postponing these changes for a year, to April 2021.

What support is available for sole traders?

The eligibility criteria for the Self-Employed Income Support Scheme currently makes no differentiation between the terms ‘sole trader’, ‘self-employed’ or ‘freelancer.’

In order to be eligible for the scheme, you must: 

  • Be self-employed or in a partnership; 
  • Have lost profits due to COVID-19; 
  • Have filed a tax return for 2018-19 as self-employed;
  • Have traded in 2019-20; be currently trading at the point of application (or would be except for COVID-19) and intend to continue to trade in the tax year 2020 to 2021;
  • Have trading profits of less than £50,000
  • Have more than half of your total income come from self-employment. This will be calculated either from your trading profits and total income in 2018/19 or from the average of your trading profits between 2016-17, 2017-18, and 2018-19. (Payments will be calculated depending on 1,2 or 3 years of data as available.) 

HMRC will contact you if you are eligible for the scheme and invite you to apply online. The scheme may not be up and running until June 2020.

Aside from this scheme, UK self-assessment payments due in July 2020 are being deferred to January 2021. Depending on your level of income and savings you could also consider an application for Universal Credit.

Is it possible for a freelance director to be covered as a furloughed worker?

Yes. If you were on the PAYE payroll system on or before 28 February 2020, you can put yourself on furlough as an employee under the Job Retention Scheme.

Under the Job Retention Scheme, if a freelance director is furloughed by a hirer, or furloughs themselves under their own limited company, they aren’t allowed to do any other paid work during the furlough period.

I frequently move between short-term PAYE contracts for work. Will I slip through the cracks?

Martin Lewis of Money Saving Expert recommends that if you were employed on one or more short-term contracts in February through PAYE, you can ask one of those employers to effectively re-hire you and put you on Furlough Leave with 80% salary support from the Government through the Job Retention Scheme. This costs them nothing, but they are not obliged to do so.

Essentially if more than 50% of your earnings come through PAYE, you can be supported under Furlough Leave though the Job Retention Scheme. If 50% or more of your earnings are non-PAYE and not dividends and your average profits are less than £50,000 annually, you can seek support under the Self-Employed Income Protections Scheme.

If you were not on the payroll of any employer on 28 February 2020 then currently you are not covered by this scheme. Directors UK and other organisations are in discussion with HM Treasury to see if freelancers who have multiple PAYE fixed term engagements can be covered by some form of support.

Do I have to be operating a PAYE scheme to access the relief for furloughed workers?

If you are running a business and you have employees on PAYE, you should be able to operate under the furlough scheme.

Am I correct in assuming that the Self-Employed Income Support Scheme is only a loan, whereas PAYE employees are not expected to pay it back?

No, they are both grants. Under the Job Retention Scheme, supporting those on PAYE as of 28 February this year, payments will be taxed and national insurance and auto-enrolled pension paid in the usual way.

The Self-Employed Income Support Scheme benefits are taxable and will be considered part of your income for your next tax return. If this payment takes you into the next tax band, you will need to pay appropriate tax on it through your next tax return.

Can I take a temporary PAYE job aside from my self-employed work and not jeopardise my grant entitlement?

Our understanding is that you can access the Self- Employed Income Support Scheme (if you meet the eligibility criteria) even if you are working now or get a temporary PAYE job to help tide you over. Be aware that the Self-Employed Income Support Scheme is taxable and if it takes you into the next income tax band (when combined with any other income) you will need to pay the appropriate tax on it through your next tax return.

What support is there for directors who exceed the £50,000 profit cap?

UK self-assessment payments due in July 2020 are being deferred to January 2021 to help with cashflow.

Aside from this, depending on your current level of savings and current income, you could be eligible for Universal Credit.

According to the Universal Credit site you are eligible if: 

  • you’re on a low income or out of work
  • you’re 18 or over (there are some exceptions if you’re aged 16 to 17)
  • you’re under State Pension age (or your partner is)
  • you and your partner have £16,000 or less in savings between you
  • you live in the UK

Universal Credit is means-tested support that consists of standard payments, plus additional payment to help with children and accommodation.

Is the £50,000 cap before or after tax?

Before. The £50,000 cap is based on pre-tax trading profits. 

How is this profit calculated? 

Our working assumption is that it would be calculated on the same basis as you do so in your tax return.

Why is there a ceiling for the self-employed and not the permanently employed?

We do not know, but according to the Office of National Statistics an average UK full time salary is £36,611 per year which would fall well below any such similar cap.

We are also aware that the Government was concerned about being seen to reward those who are perceived to be better off than average. The Chancellor has expressed that they are “targeting support where it is most needed”.

Directors UK will continue to push government for more information on why the ceiling has been applied in this way.

I have been on maternity leave/paternity leave. Will my entitlements be affected?

We have no details on the specific impact of maternity allowances as yet, but anticipate that HMRC might honour the previous taxable year(s) income as an indication of potential income in the maternity year, as treating those with pregnancy and maternity status differently to others would breach the 2010 Equality Act. Directors UK and other organisations are in discussion with HM Treasury to see if freelancers in this position can be assisted further to avoid being disadvantaged.

Where do I stand if I have not been self-employed for all of the past three years?

The Government say that if you have been self-employed for less than 3 years (i.e. you have tax records or other documentation to prove your earnings and your costs) then they will consider applications from you in good faith.

I trade as a partnership with another person. Individually we would not exceed the cap but together we do. We file individual tax returns and split the partnership evenly. How does this affect us?  

According to government eligibility criteria you are eligible for the Self-Employed Income Support Scheme if you work in a partnership. HMRC will take your individual share of partnership profit into consideration when determining if you are eligible.

I am a freelancer, but I have a limited company, of which I am director. The wage I take is low, because I also take dividends. How much could I claim and how could I claim it?

You can only claim support as an employee if you have been paying yourself through a PAYE scheme, and in particular, you need to have been on payroll on 28 February 2020 in order to access the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. Workers in your situation are specifically excluded from the support scheme for the self-employed, but you may be able to apply to the Coronavirus Business Interruption Scheme. Additionally, you may qualify for Universal Credit. Directors UK and other organisations are in discussion with HM Treasury to see if freelancers operating in this way can access some form of support.


I have just entered the self-employed market without any prior record of earnings – will I only be able to apply for Universal Credit?

The key criterion for access to the Self-Employed Income Support Scheme it that you need to have filed a self-assessment tax return for 2018-19, either by the 31 January deadline this year, or within a current window opened up by government, which closes on 23 April. Anyone who commenced self-employed activities after 6 April 2019 is therefore excluded from the SEISS, even though they will be declaring income from the 2019-20 tax year in their first self-assessed return to HMRC.

If a director was working under PAYE for someone else on 28 February this year, you can ask that employer to furlough you under the Job Retention Scheme and some financial support could be accessible there. Directors in this situation should certainly apply for Universal Credit.

What do I do if my work gets cancelled or suspended?

Where work has been cancelled due to COVID-19, good practice dictates that you should receive notification of cancellation or suspension in writing so that you are clear about why this has happened.

Your next step should be to check your employment contract to see what protection is offered and whether the company has agreed to compensate you in the case of suspension/termination/frustration (i.e. if the company is unable to continue production due to the virus). In some cases the company may have agreed to pay you during the suspension period, but unfortunately these cases are few and far between and the majority of contracts do not offer any pay during a suspension period.

The likelihood is that you will not receive any actual support from your contract in the event of suspension due to the coronavirus outbreak, or you may only receive a notice period payment in the event of termination – but it is always worth checking your contract for clarity.

The main clauses to look out for in your contract are: the suspension clause (where your engagement has been put on hold for a period of time), force majeure clause (where your engagement is suspended or terminated due to a force majeure clause being an act of God) and termination clause (if the company decides it makes sense to terminate your engagement due to not being able to fulfil its obligations because of a force majeure event).

If you have your own freelancer insurance policy you should check this to see if it provides you with any cover in the event that you are ill or told to self-isolate despite not being ill. If in doubt, contact your insurance company to see if you have cover for loss of earnings/employment due to COVID-19.

What happens if I get ill, will I still get paid?

Public Health England (PHE) has provided information on what you should do if you become ill or you are asked to self-isolate. If you are not able to come into work, you should let your employer know as soon as possible, follow their instructions and maintain contact with them.

Currently, self-employed and freelance workers are not entitled to Statutory Sick Pay. However, you should still check your employment contract to see whether it offers you any protection, and see whether the company has agreed to pay you in the case of illness. If it does you should speak to your company and they will be able to give you further advice.

Many self-employed people also take out insurance to cover periods when they cannot work due to an illness or for any other reason. If you have such cover, you should check whether it will pay out in the eventuality that you are ill. If in doubt, contact your insurance company to see if you have cover for loss of earnings/employment due to COVID-19.

My insurance company is telling me I’m not covered. What do I do?

Check whether you have insurance policies that will cover your mortgage payments or replace some of your income. For example:

  • Critical illness insurance
  • Income protection insurance
  • Payment protection insurance
  • Mortgage payment protection insurance
  • Accident, sickness and unemployment insurance

These types of insurance are often offered with life insurance policies or mortgages.

If you need to make a claim, make it straight away. There is usually a waiting period before the policy pays out, so the sooner you submit your claim the better.

Bear in mind that it is possible your insurance company may not want to pay out. If that is the case, your insurer must give you a reason in writing for refusing to pay your claim. Check the details of the policy carefully to make sure that their decision is reasonable. If you believe your insurer is being unreasonable, then you can try negotiating with them. If you still have no luck, you can make a complaint using the insurers’ complaints process.

Remember to take into account that some production companies may have insurance policies – such as business interruption or disease-related losses insurance policies – that might also be able to assist you.

What if my production is still happening but I don’t feel safe to go into the workplace?

If you do not feel safe to go to work, you must seek the agreement of your employer. Employers should listen to and respond appropriately and sensitively to the concerns of their staff. Enquire whether your employer can accommodate flexible working practices, such as homeworking. If your employer is not able to support flexible working then see if you can take the time off as holiday. If you have any concerns about the response you get from your employer please seek advice from Directors UK at legal@directors.uk.com.

What if I have to take time off, e.g. to look after a family member?

If you are not able to come into work for any reason, you should let your employer know as soon as possible and maintain communication throughout. Explore whether your employer can accommodate flexible working, such as homeworking, or else you may be able to take some of the time off as holiday. Also discuss with your employer what type of pay you can expect during such a period.

I’ve got no work and I’m worried about paying my bills. What can I do?

Depending on how you work, there are options available to you.

1. If you work through PAYE then you can approach the employer you were working for on 28 February 2020 and ask them to rehire you but as a furloughed worker under the Job Retention Scheme, and that will give you financial support for 80% of your PAYE salary up to a value of £2,500 per month. This won’t cost them anything to do, but they aren’t obliged to do it. If you operate a limited company and pay yourself via PAYE and dividend, you can furlough yourself as long as you were on the payroll on 28 February. This will get you financial support covering up to 80% of your PAYE earnings. These will be deducted for tax, national insurance and pension contributions in the normal way. Dividends are not included in the calculations for this scheme and aren’t covered for financial support. Under the Job Retention Scheme, if a director is furloughed by a hirer, or furloughs themselves under their own limited company, they aren’t allowed to do any other paid work during the furlough period.

2. If you earn 50% or more of your income through self employment (not via PAYE), and have average profits for the last three years of no more than £50,000 you can apply for help under the Self-Employed Income Support Scheme. HMRC will contact you if you are eligible as they will calculate this from your previous three tax returns (or one or two tax returns depending on how many you have filed between 2016/17, 2017/18 and 2018/19). This scheme will pay out a lump sum in June that covers 80% of your monthly self-employed income for three months. It will be taxable income and you will be asked to make national insurance contributions on it in the usual way. As with the Job Retention Scheme, dividend payments are not covered by the calculation.

3. Depending on your circumstances, you may be eligible for Universal Credit. This provides support payments for individuals and couples, and offers additional funds in support of children and certain housing costs. You may also be able to claim for Employment and Support Allowance if you have made up to three years of national insurance contributions. More information can be found on the government website.

4. If you are in urgent need of financial help there are two charities you can contact:


Are the Directors UK offices still open to members?

Following the Government’s latest guidance, the Directors UK office is closed until further notice. All our staff are working from home. Our first priority is to ensure the continuation of royalty payments to Directors UK members as far as is possible. We expect that we will be able to do this in line with our usual timetable, with a DVD distribution due to take place shortly, followed by a foreign distribution currently scheduled to take place in May.

In addition to this, we have made the decision to close our drop-in members’ spaces until further notice. Restricting access to our offices is just one of a number of preventative measures we are taking in order to reduce the potential risks from the spread of COVID-19 and to help protect the health of staff and members, whilst ensuring that we are able to continue our most essential services on behalf of the wider membership.

Are Directors UK events going ahead?

We have suspended all scheduled events until further notice. However, we have created a page rounding up all the latest digitally-accessible events from around the industry, which you can visit here.

Our Career Development schemes continue to run for members, including our Directors UK Inspire mentoring scheme and our Creative Consultancy to support Directors UK members during self-isolation.


What if I’m being asked to travel but I don’t want to, can I refuse?

Your production company or employer should have oversight of business travel, and travel to high-risk areas should be carefully considered and restricted if necessary. You can check the latest Public Health England (PHE) advice here, including a list of at-risk areas. If you are being asked to travel to one of the areas affected for work then you should speak to your production manager about your concerns or contact us for support.

If you are being asked to travel to an area not on the affected list but you still have concerns, then you should speak to your production manager or exec. A responsible employer should listen to and respond appropriately and sensitively to the concerns of staff.

What if I am abroad and I can’t travel back, will my production company pay?

In the event that you are travelling to any of the at-risk areas, make sure that the production has contingency plans in place with regards to accommodation and travel arrangements, and that they have carried out a thorough risk assessment. Make sure that the production company will cover travel expenses both to and from the at-risk area, whilst ensuring the health and safety of yourself and your crew.

What if I’m being asked to work with someone who has travelled to an at-risk area?

If you have concerns, contact your production manager or exec and seek their advice.

You can check the latest Public Health England (PHE) advice here, including a list of at-risk areas.

PHE tracks all contact that people with COVID-19 have had while in the UK. If someone with a confirmed case of COVID-19 has been to your workplace, PHE will contact management to discuss the case, identify people who have been in contact with them, and advise on any action or precautions that should be taken.

I think someone on my crew might be unwell. What should I do?

If you have concerns, contact your production manager or exec and seek their advice. If someone thinks they have been infected, they should use the 111 online coronavirus service to find out what to do next. They should not go to a GP surgery, pharmacy or hospital.

In Scotland, call your GP or NHS 24 on 111 out of hours.

In Wales, call 111 (if available in your area) or 0845 46 47.

In Northern Ireland, call 111.

PHE tracks all contact that people with COVID-19 have had while in the UK. If someone with a confirmed case of COVID-19 has been to your workplace, PHE will contact management to discuss the case, identify people who have been in contact with them, and advise on any action or precautions that should be taken.


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