What freelance photographers should know about the current guidelines

As COVID-19 grips the country, life has changed dramatically. Many industries are feeling the pinch, but few more so than professional photographers, whose livelihood is so heavily based on travel and time spent in mass company.

If you are professional photographer, it's likely you have questions, and that's what we'll be addressing in this article.

Where and when can I work?

If you are freelance photographer, you shouldn't be accepting any work during the government-mandated lockdown unless it can be performed within your own home and with nobody outside your household. Unfortunately, that is the long and the short of it. Public health needs are at a level where it means you should stay indoors and only venture out for necessities like food and medicine. We also have no confirmed timeline as to when restrictions will be eased, so this does make it harder for the self-employed to plan ahead. See the government’s guidelines here.

Keeping afloat

The good news is, the government has recently announced plans to help freelance and self-employed workers pay their bills.

The government has made grants available to self-employed workers that are worth up to 80% of your profits, capped at £2,500. As this is a grant, you do not have to pay it back, though it must still be reported on all tax filings in the manner of traditional profits.

In order to be eligible for these grants, you must have filed your 2018/19 tax return, with the 23rd of April being the cut-off point. Further grant restrictions apply, in that you must earn 50% or more of your total income from self-employment and have average trading profits of less than £50,000 per year. These requirements are judged according to your 2018/19 tax return (hence the necessity to have completed such).

This is great news for steady businesses, as it means you'll receive 80% of your expected profits at minimum, but it's bad news for those who were expecting growth this year. All judgements and calculations will be made on past profits as defined by tax documentation, meaning that what matters is what you can prove you've made in previous years, not what you were expecting to make this year. This is applicable no matter how sure you are of your profits, even in cases where specific contracts were in place before COVID-19.

The good news is that you do not need to prove coronavirus impact. If you are eligible for the grant and apply, you will get it, and there is no necessity to pause work. The government's message has been very clear - while obeying all health guidelines, do your best to keep working and enjoy the profits of your labour. Self-employment grants are there to help you get through these hard times, and they are offered without strings, to be treated like regular profits. You will pay your fair share when tax season comes around, which is why it is legal and appropriate to seek out any possible work. You can also apply for this scheme alongside universal credit.

What if  I'm not eligible? 

If you're losing work and you're not eligible for the scheme above, our best advice is to apply for a business interruption loan and contact HMRC about deferring your income tax payments. HMRC is surprisingly open to delaying payment if it means businesses stay afloat, so while hard times are ahead, there are many ways to keep your business going until it is once again okay to work.