A government scheme to protect self-employed workers from financial hardship has received more than 110,000 claims in its first four hours of operation, the Treasury has said.
The Treasury said it had moved quickly to implement the payments system after agreeing in March to supplement a subsidy for PAYE workers – which has paid for more than 7 million workers to stay at home on furlough – with a similar grant for the self-employed.
By midday on Wednesday, HMRC had received 110,102 claims for grants worth 80% of average salaries, or £2,500 a month, after the tax authority sent notices to 3.5 million of the 5.2 million self-employed people it believes are eligible.
The chancellor, Rishi Sunak, said in March the scheme would cover those earning up to £50,000, or 95% of the self-employed, and be “one of the most generous schemes anywhere in the world”.
Under pressure from gig economy workers and other self-employed groups that had threatened to sue the government unless they were given parity with employed workers, he declared it would be available to those who made the majority of their income from self-employment, so only the “genuinely self-employed” would benefit.
To minimise fraud, the Treasury insisted that only those who were already in self-employment and who had submitted a tax return for 2019 will be able to apply.
IPSE, the lobby group for self-employed workers, said the launch was an “impressive logistical achievement” but criticised the continued exclusion of groups such as limited company contractors and the newly self-employed.
IPSE’s chief executive, Derek Cribb, said: “For the self-employed, coronavirus is not only a health crisis, but also a pressing income crisis. That is why it is welcome that the government heeded our advice and created the admirable and vital SEISS. It is also excellent that the government has been able to open this early to many self-employed people in need.
“As the SEISS scheme rolls out to the self-employed, however, it is essential that we do not forget the groups that have not got the support they need out of this – such as the newly self-employed and those working through limited companies. We continue to urge the government to open out support schemes to these struggling groups,” he added.
The Treasury said claimants would be able to make their claim on a specified date between 13-18 May, based on their unique tax reference (UTR) number and could expect to see the cash in bank accounts within six working days of each claim.
HMRC has assigned eligible self-employed individuals a specific date to apply on and this can be checked on HMRC’s online checker.