COVID-19 presents the screen sectors with an unprecedented challenge. The wide ranging and damaging impacts of the virus are being felt across the entire industry and at every possible level.

As the lead organisation for film and the moving image, the BFI is working to support our colleagues during this fast moving and rapidly evolving situation. We are in daily communication with Government and working with a wide range of industry stakeholders through the BFI’s Screen Sector Taskforce to support our sector at this time.

This Q&A sets out information and guidance on COVID-19 and its impact on the sector at large – including for freelancers, screen businesses, cinemas and exhibitors and productions. It signposts resources and support made available by Government and other stakeholders and covers the following topics:

  • General advice and guidance
  • Freelancers and the self-employed
  • Cinemas, exhibitors and SMEs
  • Productions

We will continue to update this page as the situation develops and further support measures are announced and made available.

We urge practitioners across the industry and cultural sector to contact us with their concerns and questions at covid-19.queries@bfi.org.uk

General advice and guidance

Where can I find information on the UK’s response to COVID-19?

There are a number of key sources of advice and guidance on COVID-19 and the broader UK response:

  • Government is providing up-to-date advice and guidance on COVID-19 and the measures it is taking here.
  • Advice for patients is available on NHS Choices regarding symptoms is available here.
  • Advice on support for business is available here.

The mental health charity Mind has also provided advice and guidance on how to look after your mental health at this time. Available to read here.

Can I travel internationally at the moment, given COVID-19?

The UK Government is currently advising UK nationals against all but essential international travel. Your ability to travel may be impacted by travel bans or restrictions enacted by other countries. The Foreign & Commonwealth Office provides country-specific advice here.

Freelancers and the self-employed

Am I able to work at the moment?

Production is now able to take place across the UK if productions follow proper guidelines that allow them to do so safely. These were developed by the British Film Commission in consultation with industry as part of the Screen Sector Taskforce’s work and are available to view here.

DCMS have confirmed that filming will be able to continue in England during November as long as these guidelines are followed and this is the case in the devolved nations too.

The guidelines complement production guidance by ITV, BBC, Sky, Channel 4, Channel 5, STV, ITN, the Commercial Broadcasters Association (COBA) and Pact concerning wider TV programme making in every genre, which are available to read here. UK Screen Alliance has also consulted with industry to develop guidelines for VFX and post-production, which can be accessed here.

What financial support measures have been announced for the self-employed?

The UK Government has set out a number of measures designed to support the self-employed:

  • Self-employed Income Support Scheme:This has been extended in response to new November restrictions in England, while its value has been doubled. Self-employed people can now claim support for up to 80% of profits as opposed to the previous rate of 55%. More information here
  • Self-assessment payments: Self-assessment payments are deferred from July 2020 to January 2021.
  • Time to Pay: The Government has introduced new systems to support those facingl difficulty in paying tax bills at this moment in time. A helpline can be reached at 0800 0159 559.
  • Mortgage holidays: Government has confirmed that its mortgage holiday scheme will be extended in light of November restrictions in England, allowing homeowners a payment holiday for up to six months without it affecting their credit file. Further detail is expected shortly.

Self-employed workers may also be eligible for a number of measures set out to help businesses including SMEs, such as the Bounce Back Loan Scheme. Please see the Cinemas, Exhibitors and SMEs section below for further detail.

I’m a freelancer paid through PAYE. What Government support is available for me?

Government has confirmed that it will extend the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (JRS) until March 2021, subject to review in January. This means any worker including PAYE freelancers that were on an employer’s payroll by 23:59 on 30th October 2020 can be paid 80% of their wages by Government for hours not worked. This allows employers the flexibility to bring furloughed employees back to work on a part time basis or furlough them full-time, with employers only asked to cover National Insurance and employer pension contributions. On average, this accounts for just 5% of total employment costs. More information here.

Workers should note that while the scheme provides financial support to companies in order to pay staff, it requires companies to cashflow this process until a grant is received. It is at the discretion of the company as to whether they are in a position to make use of the Job Retention Scheme (JRS).

The JRS will not provide support for those PAYE freelancers who were not on payroll by 30 October. The BFI has made the case to Government for further support for those freelancers not captured by existing measures.

The JRS was previously due to close at the end of October. The Job Support Scheme, which was scheduled to come in on Sunday 1 November, has now been postponed given the extension of JRS.

What other support is available to freelancers and the self-employed?

A number of organisations have worked to provide emergency funds for freelancers impacted by the pandemic, including the Covid-19 Film and TV Emergency Relief Fund run by The Film + TV Charity with the BFI as well as similar funds operated by Screen Scotland, Creative Wales, Ffilm Cymru Wales and others. These funds are now closed.

Screen Scotland has announced that its Screen Hardship Fund for freelancers will reopen on 10 November. More information here.

The Film + TV Charity’s support line is open 24/7 to offer advice, signposting and a listening ear. Through the support line you can access the emotional and financial support services offered by the charity, including counselling, legal advice and financial grants. It can be reached at 0800 054 0000. You can find out more about the support the charity offers on its website filmtvcharity.org.uk or by calling the helpline on 0800 054 0000.

Many screen sector unions are providing advice and support to their members. This includes:

  • BECTU: Providing guidance here.
  • Directors UK: Guidance here.
  • Equity: Guidance here.
  • WGGB — The Writers’ Guild of Great Britain: Guidance here.

If you are experiencing difficulties paying back personal loans or credit card bills as a result of COVID-19, you should talk to your lender. The Financial Conduct Authority has called on lenders to use flexibility built into their rules to support consumers, taking into account their individual circumstances.

Will COVID-19 impact the proposed changes to IR35?

HM Treasury has confirmed that proposed IR35 tax reforms will be postponed by one year until 6 April 2021 due to the impact of COVID-19. These reforms were previously set to come into effect from 6 April 2020. They increase the number of self-employed coming under the IR35 umbrella, meaning those that work for a company like an employee may have to pay the same level of tax that permanent members of staff pay. More on the proposed reforms here.

Measures for businesses (including cinemas)

Can cinemas open at the moment? And how about workplaces?

The ability of cinemas and businesses to open varies depending on the restrictions implemented in each of the four nations of the UK.

The UK Cinema Association has developed guidelines for how cinemas can reopen safely which are available here, while UK Screen Alliance have produced similar guidelines for VFX and post-production, available here. Government has also produced guidance for other businesses. These provide a blueprint for opening when restrictions allow.

At present, cinemas and businesses are governed by the following restriction in the various nations:

  • England: All cinemas must close as part of the November 2020 restrictions. Workplaces must also close except where work cannot take place from home. These measures are set to expire on December 2nd subject to review. More here.
  • Scotland: Rules on cinemas and workplaces varies by area, according to the five Protection Levels set out by Scottish Government. These can be checked here.
  • Wales:All cinemas are closed until at least November 9th as part of Wales’ ‘firebreak lockdown’, while people must work from home if they can. More here.
  • Northern Ireland: As part of a four-week lockdown introduced on October 16th, cinemas are currently closed, while everyone must work from home where they can at present. More here.

What support measures have been announced for cinemas and exhibitors?

The UK Government announced an unprecedented £1.57 billion Culture Recovery Fund to help Britain’s culture, arts and heritage organisations including cinemas hit hard by the pandemic.

The £30 million Culture Recovery Fund for Independent Cinemas in England, administered by the BFI, was open to non-profit and independent cinemas including mixed artform venues. The fund is now closed for applications. Similar funds are being  made available in the devolved nations, run by Screen Scotland, Welsh Government and the Northern Irish Executive respectively. These are now closed in Scotland and Wales, though Northern Ireland has yet to open the fund.

HMT also confirmed that all cinemas will benefit from a cut in VAT on tickets to 5% from 15 July. 

Cinemas and exhibitors have also made use of many of the support measures introduced for businesses across the economy, including the Job Retention Scheme. More detail on this is provided below.

In the immediate period following the closures imposed in Marchlockdown, the BFI launched a £1m BFI FAN COVID-19 Resilience Fund. Repurposing the BFI Film Audience Network’s National Lottery activity funding, the Fund provided critical relief and business continuity available to exhibitors across the whole of the UK. This has now closed.

What financial support measures are currently available for businesses?

Government sets out guidance on the steps businesses should take in response to COVID-19 here.

Measures to support businesses include the following:

  • Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme: This has been extended to cover the cost of furloughed workers in the month of November following the announcement of new November restrictions in England on Saturday 31 October. More information set out below.
  • Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme: Delivered through commercial lenders and backed by the British Business Bank, to support businesses to access bank lending and overdrafts This was due to close on 30 November but has now been extended until 31 January. More on this here.
  • Bounce Back Loan scheme: This scheme provides microloans of between £2,000 and £50,000 to smaller businesses. The government will guarantee 100% of the loan and there won’t be any fees or interest to pay for the first 12 months. The scheme will launch on 4 May 2020. More information here.
  • Credit and cashflow measures:
    • Government has deferred payment of VAT for businesses, which will have until the end of the financial year to repay bills from Q1 2020/21. This deferral is automatic and does not require registration.
    • If you’re a large business facing cash flow issues due to COVID-19, the Bank of England’s Corporate Financing Facility will allow you to see short-term debt in order to raise capital. Further details here.
  • Time to Pay: The Government will ensure that businesses and self-employed individuals in financial distress and with outstanding tax liabilities receive support with their tax affairs. HMRC has set up a dedicated COVID-19 helpline to help those in need, and they may be able to agree a bespoke Time to Pay arrangement. This can be reached at 0800 0159 559. 
  • Business rates relief: Mitigations vary on a devolved basis.
    • England: Retail, hospitality and leisure businesses, including cinemas, will pay no business rates this year.
      • Northern Ireland: All businesses will pay zero rates for the full financial year. More here.
    • Scotland: Has announced a full rates relief for retail, hospitality and leisure sectors and has halted the introduction of the Visitor Levy Bill. Creative Scotland provides further detail on financial support here.
    • Wales: Retail, leisure and hospitality businesses with a rateable value of £500,000 or less will receive 100% business rate relief in 2020/21. More here.
  • Covering the costs of Statutory Sick Pay (SSP): If you’re an SME with fewer than 250 employees, you may be entitled to reclaim the costs of Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) for sickness absence due to COVID-19. This refund will cover up to two weeks’ SSP per eligible employee who are either ill or have been told to self-isolate because of COVID-19. More information here.

How does the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme work and how can I make use of it?

Government has confirmed that it will extend the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (JRS) for an additional month until March 2021, subject to review in January. This means any worker including PAYE freelancers that were on an employer’s PAYE payroll by 23:59 on 30 October 2020 can be paid 80% of their wages by Government for hours not worked. This allows employers the flexibility to bring furloughed employees back to work on a part time basis or furlough them full-time, with employers only asked to cover National Insurance and employer pension contributions which, for the average claim, accounts for just 5% of total employment costs. More information here.

The JRS was previously due to close at the end of October. The Job Support Scheme, which was scheduled to come in on Sunday 1 November, has now been postponed given the extension of JRS.

Directors and owner-managers can be furloughed if on PAYE and will still be allowed to do statutory duties in these roles (e.g. filling out accounts) – this will not count as work which disqualifies them from the grant.

Applications for the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme are open here.

Further information is provided for employers here.

Further information on employees about how to check eligibility for JRS is available here.

Does the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme cover fixed-term workers?

Following the extension of JRS on 31 October 2020, fixed term workers are eligible for the job retention scheme, even where their contracts have come to an end (for any reason) as long as they were on PAYE payroll by 30 October. However, if the contract expires at any time during furlough, employers will no longer be able to claim for these workers.

Productions

Is production allowed to take place at the moment?

Production is now able to take place across the UK if productions follow proper guidelines that allow them to do so safely. These were developed by the British Film Commission in consultation with industry as part of the Screen Sector Taskforce’s work and are available to view here.

DCMS have confirmed that filming will be able to continue in England during November as long as these guidelines are followed. This is also the case under restrictions in place in the devolved nations.

The guidelines complement production guidance by ITV, BBC, Sky, Channel 4, Channel 5, STV, ITN, the Commercial Broadcasters Association (COBA) and Pact concerning wider TV programme making in every genre, which are available to read here. UK Screen Alliance has also consulted with industry to develop guidelines for VFX and post-production, which can be accessed here.

What financial support measures have been announced for production?

The Government has announced a new UK-wide £500 million Film and TV Production Restart Scheme to help domestic film and TV productions which are struggling to get coronavirus related insurance which they need in order to get back up and running. The scheme has received state aid clearance and is open for applications.

Marsh Commercial’s website for the scheme’s application form and process can be found here.

Securing a solution for insurance cover has been part of the work undertaken by the BFI’s Screen Sector Task Force and its working group on this area of work led by Pact.

The aim of the new scheme is to give productions the confidence they need that they will be supported if future losses for cast member and crew illnesses and filming delays or disruptions are incurred due to Covid-19.

I have had to abandon my project due to COVID-19. Is it possible to claim the creative sector tax relief on costs I’ve incurred to the point of abandonment?

Yes. Projects eligible under the film, HETV, video games, children’s television and animation television tax reliefs are able to claim the relevant creative sector tax relief up until the point of abandonment, helping to mitigate costs. The BFI certification unit can provide advice on guidance on these reliefs. You should apply for interim certification and can contact the Certification Unit at certifications@bfi.org.uk if you have any questions or need advice. Further information on how to apply can be found here.

I need to apply for the cultural test/co-production application but cannot provide the statutory declaration

To help applicants we are accepting all applications electronically and you are not required to submit a hard copy of the application form and statutory declaration immediately. However, you must ensure this is forwarded to us within six months of your certificate being issued, otherwise the certificate may be revoked. Please email anna.mansi@bfi.org.uk or certifications@bfi.org.uk with any questions.

We will continue to update this Q&A with the latest advice and guidance for productions as it becomes available.

As a reminder, please do contact us with any concerns and questions at covid-19.queries@bfi.org.uk.