In less than six weeks, the coronavirus has turned our lives upside down.
The UK is now in lockdown, and all-but-essential travel has been banned.
Though millions are now working from home or have been furloughed using a generous government scheme, for contractors and the self-employed, things aren’t always so easy, and knowing what to do can be tough.
Below, we’ve put together some top tips for contractors during the coronavirus pandemic.
Keep in touch with your agency
Perhaps most importantly, you should keep in regular contact with your recruitment agency and clients. If you’re no longer able to work, it’s important to check that you won’t be held liable for any targets not being met – go through your contract with a fine-tooth comb and understand your legal obligations, seeking support from your agency where necessary.
Let your client know that you’re keen to get back to work and offer them support when you cannot make it to their site. They may still be able to utilise your expertise and pay you a small wage during the lockdown period, or they may be happy with you taking six weeks off, so long as you return to complete your responsibilities as soon as restrictions are lifted.
The key is to communicate. If you’re transparent and work with clients rather than against them, you’ll come out better and may secure a longer-term contract in the months ahead.
Only work if it’s safe to do so
Having said that, you should only work if it’s safe to do so. Over the past month, there have been numerous reports of contractors having to work in unsafe conditions to appease their clients, and that’s not only dangerous but illegal. Consult an expert in your niche and make sure that your client or agency can give you the reassurance you need to carry out your work safely – if they cannot, you are well within your rights to postpone your work until it’s safe.
Although the government has said only ‘essential’ workers in healthcare, education, food, public services, utility, security, transport, and government can continue to travel to work, very few contractors officially fall into these categories, and so you should stay at home.
Look towards remote working where possible
If you simply have to work during the coronavirus crisis (after all, we all need to put food on the table) look for ways that you can work remotely. It doesn’t matter whether you work in education, healthcare or construction; the chances are that your skills will be in high demand and working remotely through Zoom videoconferences and phone calls could be a solution.
If that’s not an option and you have to visit your clients to carry out your work, follow all of the best practices (search for specific industry guidelines related to your role), wear personal protective equipment (PPE) where it’s available, and try to avoid contact with other workers.
Understand what support is available
Although the government announced a series of measures to help workers and businesses weather the storm of the coronavirus, some contractors, self-employed workers and sole traders working under a limited company slip through the net. The good news for you is that changes to IR35 have been postponed a year, so that’s one less thing to worry about.
If you’re VAT registered, you can deter your VAT payments from 20 March 2020 to 30 June 2020, and this may be extended depending on the period of the lockdown. You do not need to register – HMRC’s website will automatically extend your deadline by a quarter. However, if you pay monthly via direct debit, we recommend cancelling this as soon as possible.
Your Self Assessment payment on account has also been extended. Previously, contractors and the self-employed would have had to pay their next tax bill by July 31st, but this can be extended to January 31st 2021. Again, you don’t need to apply and you won’t be penalised.
The government has also issued additional support for self-employed workers, paying up to £2,500 per month, but this is limited to those who have annual profits of under £50,000. And if you operate under a limited company, directors can use the government furlough scheme.
If you’re paid via an umbrella company, you’re covered by the government’s job retention scheme and can be furloughed during the COVID-19 crisis so reach out as soon as possible.
Plan for the months ahead
Though nobody knows exactly how long the lockdown will last, the government is expected to slacken some of its restrictions in the next couple of months. Because of this, you should prepare for the months ahead and ensure you’re ready to return to work as soon as you can.
That means checking your equipment and supplies, getting into the right mindset, and using the quiet spell to focus on accounting, administration, and finding your next contractor role.
The world will be a different place post-crisis and we’ll enter into a recession, so anything you can do to stand out and make yourself more competitive will help you secure work.
At Evolve Contract Services, we’re working flat-out to support contractors and key workers during these unprecedented times. Get in touch today if you want to make the switch to an umbrella service like ours.