Government opens up second round of help for the self-employed

The second round of the government’s SEISS scheme, which offers grants of up to £6,750 to self-employed people, is now open. Applications will be accepted until 19 October.

Self-employed people adversely affected by the Covid-19 pandemic have just over six weeks to claim support from the government’s Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS). The second round of the scheme, which offers grants of up to £6,750, opened last week and applications will be accepted until 19 October.

The SEISS aims to fill some of the gap into which many self-employed workers have fallen because they are not eligible for other types of business support. Assuming you meet the qualifying criteria, it will pay 70% of your average monthly trading profits over the past three tax years. The non-repayable grant is paid in a single instalment and covers three months’ profits, up to a maximum of £6,750 (the equivalent of £2,190 a month).

In theory, HM Revenue & Customs will contact you if it thinks you are eligible, inviting you to apply. But in the first round of the scheme, not all those eligible received invitations, so it’s important to check. Equally, the fact HMRC suggests you may be entitled to claim doesn’t mean you definitely qualify. There is some evidence people have been wrongly paid grants and they may have to return this money.

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The key criteria

The qualifying criteria can get quite technical, but the basics should give you a good idea of whether you are eligible. You must have filed a tax return for the 2018-2019 tax year; your average annual trading profit over the past three years must have been less than £50,000; and you must earn more than 50% of your total income from self-employment.

If you meet these criteria, go through HMRC’s application process to check whether you definitely have a claim. Importantly, however, you must also be able to show your business has been “adversely affected” by Covid-19. And in this second round of the SEISS, the test is whether the business has suffered after 14 July.

This means whether or not you claimed help in the first round of SEISS is irrelevant to your application this time around. In practice, “adversely affected” will mean different things to different firms. HMRC’s examples include people who have been unable to work because they are on sick leave owing to Covid-19, or because they’re shielding or self-isolating, or have caring duties. It also cites companies that have had to scale down or close altogether due to the virus – because of loss of business, for example, but also because of supply chain problems or employees’ inability to come into work. There is no hard and fast definition, but you do need to keep evidence that proves your claim. HMRC may ask for details in the future.

One irony of the scheme is there is no requirement to show you actually need the money. If your business is trading comfortably for now but has suffered at least some adverse effects from the virus, you may claim. Whether you do so or not is then a personal decision. To make your claim, use the official government portal on the website. You will need a Government Gateway account, your self-assessment unique taxpayer reference, your national insurance number and your bank details. Make the claim yourself, rather than asking your accountant to do so.

Revenue-based loans launched

Could revenue-based finance help your business grow? Many small businesses are reluctant to take on debt, even where it could power valuable investment, because they worry about their ability to remain on top of repayments if their trading deteriorates. But what if your loan cost less in that case?

This is the pitch being made by a number of innovative new business lenders such as Uncapped, which has just launched in the UK. It offers loans of between £10,000 and £2m with a flat fee of 6% of the sum borrowed and repayments that flex from month to month until the loan is repaid. In good months for the business the borrower pays more, but when revenues go down, so does the loan repayment.

Uncapped is one of several lenders pioneering this type of finance in the UK; others include Fleximize and Uplift1. These lenders are taking advantage of advances in data analytics, making their loan offers on the basis of detailed scrutiny of borrowers’ accounts.

Revenue-based finance isn’t appropriate for all businesses. Lenders are targeting companies with predictable revenue streams, such as those that charge their customers monthly subscription fees, and those that primarily trade online. But for those eligible, this could be a less risky way to borrow for future investment.

David Prosser
Business Columnist

David Prosser is a regular MoneyWeek columnist, writing on small business and entrepreneurship, as well as pensions and other forms of tax-efficient savings and investments. David has been a financial journalist for almost 30 years, specialising initially in personal finance, and then in broader business coverage. He has worked for national newspaper groups including The Financial Times, The Guardian and Observer, Express Newspapers and, most recently, The Independent, where he served for more than three years as business editor.