The UK government’s self-employed income support scheme (SEISS) went live for claims on Wednesday morning, with grants available to cover lost income due to the coronavirus.
The Treasury confirmed the launch of the HMRC online portal had been brought forward, with business leaders welcoming the earlier-than-expected support.
The government had faced criticism over the long wait for support faced by many self-employed workers, whose earnings began to dry up in March when the pandemic and lockdown started to take a heavy toll.
Millions of workers are expected to apply for the scheme, which runs in parallel to the government’s similar furlough policy that supports more than 7 million employees.
Claimants are expected to be able to receive grants within six days of a completed claim. Applicants receive 80% of their average monthly income over the past three years for a three-month period, capped at £7,500 in total.
HMRC has contacted those eligible, informing them to apply on specified dates between 13 and 18 May.
“With payments arriving before the end of this month, self-employed across the UK will have money in their pockets to help them through these challenging times,” said chancellor Rishi Sunak in a Treasury statement.
Derek Cribb, CEO of the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed (IPSE), welcomed the news in a statement also released via the government. He called the scheme a “much-needed lifeline to those self-employed people who are eligible for it.”
The scheme and faster timetable were also welcomed by the Federation of Small Business and and Federation of Master Builders.
But the scheme has come under fire for leaving many workers out. Anyone new to self-employment in the past year, those who earn less than half their income through self-employment and those whose past income averaged over £50,000 a year are not eligible.
The Independent Workers of Great Britain (IWGB) union and two Uber drivers are taking legal action over the scheme, claiming it discriminates compared to the furlough scheme. It is also currently due to only cover three months of earnings, whereas the furlough scheme was extended on Tuesday (12 May) to last eight months’ earnings to the end of October.