Government launches final Covid support scheme for the self-employed

A fifth and final round of the government’s aid scheme for the self-employed, with grants of up to £7,500, has been launched.

Overly enthusiastic couple
Check carefully to see if you meet the criteria
(Image credit: © Getty Images/iStockphotos)

There is good news for self-employed workers still struggling with the financial impact of Covid-19. The government has now opened applications for the fifth – and final – round of the self-employment income support scheme (SEISS). You could be entitled to a grant of up to £7,500.

The eligibility criteria for the SEISS are broadly unchanged, and HM Revenue & Customs will look at your previous tax returns to check you meet the basic requirements. These are that you traded in both the 2019/2020 tax year – and submitted your self-assessment tax return for that period on or before 2 March 2021 – and the 2020/2021 tax year.

Further key conditions are that at least 50% of your total income must come from self-employment and your average trading profit should be no more than £50,000.

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In addition, you need to be able to show that you reasonably believe your trading profits during the period from 1 May to 30 September 2021 will be lower because of Covid-19. You could be asked to supply evidence. It may be that you have been unable to trade because of lockdown restrictions during that period; or you may be suffering reduced demand or capacity.

Turnover tiers

What you’ll get from the SEISS depends on how badly you have been affected. This is a departure from previous rounds of the scheme, which paid flat rates of support. This time, if your turnover fell by 30% or more in 2020/2021 compared with 2019/2020 or 2018/2019, you will be able to claim 80% of your average three-month trading profit, capped at a maximum of £7,500. If your turnover declined by less than 30%, you can only claim 30% of your average three-month profit, up to a maximum of £2,850. In theory, HMRC is supposed to contact everyone it thinks may be eligible for the fifth round of the SEISS in order to invite them to apply. It began sending out those invitations in the second half of July – by text message, email and letter – but is staggering the process so that the system isn’t overwhelmed.

If you haven’t heard from HMRC by the middle of August and believe you may have been missed out, it is worth contacting the tax authority directly.

Applications for the scheme have to be made online by 30 September through HMRC’s SEISS portal pages. You will need a variety of data to complete the application, including turnover figures for the relevant tax years, your national insurance number, your self-assessment unique taxpayer reference (UTR) number, and your bank account details. HMRC will check your details and is committed to paying you within six working days of receiving your claim.

Importantly, awards from the SEISS are grants, not loans, and do not have to be repaid. If you’re entitled to the money, you should definitely make a claim.

Nonetheless, self-employed workers are entitled to feel aggrieved about some aspects of the scheme. One issue is that while this round covers a five-month period, it only pays out on the basis of three months’ profit. More broadly, the SEISS is far less generous than the furloughing scheme that helps employed people whose employers are struggling with the pandemic. Bear in mind too that hundreds of thousands of self-employed workers continue to miss out on any help at all – including those who have paid themselves through dividends from their companies. If you’re not eligible for help, you may be able to claim universal credit, but this won’t come close to matching the value of the SEISS.

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.