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 develop mitigations tailored to the sector’s needs.

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

(NB: This Q&A is aimed at the wider screen industries. Those in receipt of funding from the BFI have been contacted directly with guidance on arrangements around COVID-19. The BFI aims to be as supportive and flexible as possible across these arrangements).

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.
  • HM Treasury has produced a fact sheet on how to access government financial support for you or your business here.
  • Government also provides guidance on the steps your business should take 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

How is COVID-19 impacting freelancers and the self-employed working in the screen industries?

As part of crucial social distancing measures, COVID-19 has caused productions and exhibitors across the UK to shut down. This means a vast number of freelancers lost work, as did businesses working across the supply chain. They face financial uncertainty in the coming months.

Will my insurance cover the impact of COVID-19?

The Chancellor has stated that for those businesses which have a policy that covers pandemics, the government’s action should be sufficient and will allow businesses to make an insurance claim against their policy,though this is subject to discussion with insurers. Freelancers and the self-employed should review their insurance agreements for clauses on ‘force majeure’, including pandemics.

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

(NB: For measures relating to businesses, please see the ‘Cinemas, exhibitors and SMEs’ section below)

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

  • Self-employed Income Support Scheme: The Chancellor has announced a Self-employed Income Support Scheme. Details are as follows:
    • The scheme will provide the self-employed with a taxable grant worth 80% of their average monthly profits over the last three years, up to a maximum of £2,500 per month.
    • The scheme is open to those who draw the majority of their income from self-employment and who operate trading profits of up to £50,000 per annum.
    • Applicants must have a tax return for 2019 in order to apply. They must also be able to demonstrate that they continued to be self-employed in 2019/20 and into 2020/21.
    • Those who are eligible for the scheme should now have been contacted directly by HMRC and asked to complete an online form. Those who believe are eligible but have not been contacted can check here. Payment will be made directly into the recipient’s bank account.
    • Where people have been self-employed for less than three years, they will be eligible to receive 80% of their average earnings for either the past one or two years, depending on how many tax returns are available.
    • The self-employed will be able to claim this grant while continuing to do business where possible.
    • Access to universal credit and sick pay: the Government has announced a number of measures to improve access to universal credit for the self-employed during this period. These measures include the following:
    • For the duration of the outbreak, the minimum income floor for Universal Credit will be suspended, enabling the self-employed to access universal credit in full at a rate equivalent to statutory sick pay for employees.
    • The universal credit standard allowance will be increased by £1,000 per year for the next twelve months. The working tax credit basic element will be increased by the same amount over this period too.
    • If you claim Universal Credit and are directly affected by COVID-19 or are self-isolating, you will be able to claim this as well as advance payments without the current requirement to attend a jobcentre.
    • ‘New style’ Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) will be payable for people directly affected by COVID-19 or self-isolating according to Government advice from the first day of sickness, rather than the eighth day. ESA provides money to those unable to work due to sickness or disability. The amount you receive is not impacted by savings or income.
  • Self-assessment payments: Self assessment payments are deferred from July 2020 to January 2021.
  • 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. The helpline can be reached at 0800 0159 559. It gives businesses a time-limited deferral period on HMRC liabilities owed and a pre-agreed time period to pay these back. These tailored arrangements will give a business the time it needs to pay HMRC to support their recovery while operating through any temporary financial challenges that occur. To ensure ongoing support, HMRC have made a further 2,000 experienced call handlers available to support firms when needed. HMRC will also waive late payment penalties and interest where a business experiences administrative difficulties contacting HMRC or paying taxes due to COVID-19.
  • Local authority support: Local authorities are administering a £500m Hardship Fund. Most of this will be used to provide council tax relief. Local authorities can provide more detail on how this is being used in your area.
  • Mortgage holidays: Government has confirmed that those with mortgages will be offered at least a three month mortgage holiday.

Self-employed workers may also be eligible for a number of measures set out to help businesses including SMEs, such as the Coronavirus Business Interruption 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?

If you are a PAYE freelancer and were on the payroll of a production on either 28 February or 19 March, the production may be able to furlough you and claim support through the Government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (more below). Employees can check their eligibility 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.

The Job Retention Scheme does not provide support for those PAYE freelancers who were not on payroll of 28 February or 19 March. The BFI has continued to make the case to Government for further support for those freelancers not captured by existing measures.

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

The BFI and The Film + TV Charity partnered to create a new £2.5m industry-backed Covid-19 Film and TV Emergency Relief Fund to help support the creative community, established via donations from a range of industry partners. The time-limited fund has made one round of awards so far, offering one-off grants of between £500 and £2,500 for freelancers working in production, distribution and exhibition. The Film  TV Charity has made a call for more donations to enable a further round of awards to freelancers in need. More information is available here.

Equity is administering a benevolent fund and accepting donations to help those who are facing financial difficulty due to COVID-19. More here.

Screen Scotland announced a £1.5m Screen Bridging Bursary programme to provide one-off bursaries to screen sector workers who are experiencing immediate financial difficulty. They have also developed a Single Project Development Fund. More here.

Ffilm Cymru Wales announced a package of funds including emergency relief funds for workers, an accelerated development fund and support for emerging filmmakers. More 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. Equity has also compiled a briefing on potential sources of financial support 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.

When and how will I be able to get back to work?

Government guidance on its COVID-19 recovery strategy published on May 11th means productions in England are able to return to work if they follow government guidelines that allow them to do so safely (though the devolved nations remain on tighter lockdown at present).

As part of the Screen Sector Task Force, the British Film Commission consulted with industry, DCMS and the Health & Safety Executive among others to develop guidance for productions on how to film safely. These provide industry with best practice on how to return to work and can be accessed here. These 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.

Measures for businesses (including cinemas)

How is COVID-19 impacting screen businesses?

Cinemas were forcibly closed under lockdown in light of social distancing measures, while distributors have postponed the release of many upcoming films. This has resulted in a huge loss of revenue for many operators and threatens a lot of businesses altogether.

Many small businesses working in the supply chain, such as kit suppliers, are seeing massive loss of business given the shutdown of productions and venues too.

What support measures have been announced for cinemas and exhibitors?

HMT have confirmed that all cinemas will benefit from a cut in VAT on tickets to 5% from July 15th. Government has also confirmed that independent cinemas will be eligible for funding through its £1.57bn cultural recovery package, offering support to enable them to reopen. The BFI has worked closely with DCMS to establish the urgency of need of independent cinemas and will administer these funds in England, with investment provided to the Devolved Administrations to support cultural organisations on a devolved basis too. The BFI is working with UK Government to finalise the precise nature and scope of the funding as well as to design administration systems at pace, with an aim to deliver support to industry by the end of the summer.

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 lockdown, 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. More information here.

Will my insurance cover the impact of COVID-19?

The Chancellor stated that for those businesses which have a policy that covers pandemics, the Government’s action is sufficient and will allow businesses to make an insurance claim against their policy. Companies with cover should speak to their insurance company about making a claim.

Despite Government guidance, many screen businesses are having difficulty in making a claim through their insurers. The BFI continues to flag this to Government, highlighting that such financial support is essential for business continuity and to allow the screen industries to begin work again following the relaxation of social distancing measures.

What financial support measures have been announced for businesses so far?

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: HMRC will cover most of the cost of paying members of staff who are not working but furloughed and kept on payroll. The scheme initially covered 80% of workers’ salaries up to a maximum of £2,500 a month, with employers free to top up the total, with amendments to the scheme in the lead-up to its closure in October. More detail on this is provided below.
  • Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme: The Government launched a temporary 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. More on this scheme below.
  • 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.
  • Business loans in the devolved nations: The Development Bank of Wales will provide loans of between £5,000 and £250,000 to businesses experiencing cashflow problems. More here.
  • Investment for SMEs: Businesses with a rateable value of less than £51,000 are also able to access £25,000 grants to help bridge the period. 700,000 of the UK’s smallest businesses will be able to access grants of up to £10,000 (increased from £3,000 on 17 March). Welsh Government is providing grants for microbusinesses and SMEs (here), while the Scottish Government and Northern Ireland Executive are providing similar measures too for those working in leisure, hospitality and retail (see here for Scotland and here for Northern Ireland).
  • Credit and cashflow measures:
    • Government has deferred payment of VAT for the next quarter, with no payments due until June. Businesses 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. Time to Pay gives businesses a time-limited deferral period on HMRC liabilities owed and a pre-agreed time period to pay these back.
  • 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 next three months, with rates bills deferred from April to June. The Northern Ireland Executive will set out further measures as part of its budget. 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 £51,000 or less will receive 100% business rate relief and pubs with a rateable value of between £51,000 and £100,000 will receive a £5,000 reduction on their bill. A further £100m will be available for a new grant scheme for small businesses shortly. 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?

The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme helps businesses to maintain their workforce while operations have been impacted by the COVID-19 crisis. It initially allowed businesses to furlough workers and apply for a grant that covers 80% of their usual monthly wage costs, up to £2,500 a month, plus the associated Employer National Insurance contributions and pension contributions (up to the level of the minimum automatic enrolment employer pension contribution) on that subsidised furlough pay.

The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme will run until 31 October 2020. From 1 July, employers can bring furloughed employees back to work for any amount of time and any shift pattern, while still being able to claim CJRS grant for the hours not worked. From 1 August 2020, the level of grant will be reduced each month. To be eligible for the grant employers must pay furloughed employees 80% of their wages, up to a cap of £2,500 per month for the time they are being furloughed.

You can only claim for furloughed employees that were employed and on PAYE payroll by one of two cut-off dates: 28 February 2020 or 19 March 2020. This means an RTI submission notifying payment in respect of that employee to HMRC must have been made on or before either 28 February or 19 March.

If you made employees redundant, or they stopped working for you on or after either of the cut-off dates, you can re-employ them, put them on furlough and claim for their wages from the date on which you furloughed them, even if you do not re-employ them until after 19 March 2020. This applies as long as the employee was on your PAYE payroll in accordance with the steps outlined above.

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?

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 either 28 February or 19 March, as set out in the answer above. These workers can be rehired and their contracts can be extended during any furlough period in order to ensure continued cover through JRS. However, if the contract expires at any time during furlough, employers will no longer be able to claim for these workers.

Can my business access support through the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS)?

The Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme aims to provide businesses with access to finance, delivered through commercial lenders and backed by the British Business Bank.

For SMEs, the scheme allows lenders to support loans of up to £5m in value for SMEs, with a guarantee of 80% on each loan (subject to a per lender cap on claims). No interest will be due for the first twelve months. This scheme is now open.

Following feedback from industry that they were being encouraged by banks to take high interest loans in the first instance, HM Treasury has dropped the requirement for viable companies to have first tried to get a normal commercial loan elsewhere, while most banks have also dropped any requirement on personal guarantees for loans under £250,000.

Many creative businesses continue to report that they are unable to make use of this loan function without a 100% guarantee as well as uncertainty as to interest rates following the 12-month period. BFI has continued to report this back to Government. Creative businesses may also wish to consider the Bounce Back Loan scheme subsequently announced by Government, which offers a 100% guarantee on smaller sums, detailed here.

CBILS was initially announced with a maximum loan of £1.2m and an interest-free period of six months, but these were later extended by the Chancellor.

Government has also announced a Coronavirus Large Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CLBILS), designed to lend up to £50 million to businesses with a turnover higher than £45 million. More information here.

When and how will I be able to get back to work?

Cinemas and many businesses are now able to open again where they observe social distancing. 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. The Taskforce is also working to provide Government and industry with as much evidence as possible on public attitudes and audience demand to return to cinemas post-lockdown, to ensure cinemas are reopened at a time and in a manner which may prove financially viable for cinemas. Research for the Independent Cinema Office suggested most independent venues intend to open by the end of September.

Productions

How is COVID-19 impacting productions?

Given international social distancing measures, COVID-19 is causing major issues for productions, and many have been forced to postpone or shut down completely.

What financial support measures have been announced for productions so far?

Productions may be able to make use of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme in order to maintain crews while work is on hold. Further detail is provided above in the section on businesses.

The BFI launched a BFI COVID-19 Production Continuation Fund, making up to £2m available to independent UK productions interrupted by COVID-19. Productions can apply for funding to help cover unexpected additional costs to ensure they are in the best position to resume when practical. More information here.

What steps can be taken to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on productions?

The complex financing, logistics and timings involved with productions means each will face unique challenges from COVID-19. Action required will therefore vary on a case-by-case basis.

The British Film Commission has worked with industry to develop health and safety guidance for cinemas, which is set out below. We also advise that productions engage financiers and review their insurance (taking note of any ‘force majeure’ clauses and their applicability with regard to pandemics) in order to help develop mitigations to the challenges posed by COVID-19.

The Screen Sector Taskforce is currently working with UK Government to secure a number of measures that will enable to sector to absorb the financial impact of COVID-19. This includes measures to provide effective production insurance. We will update this Q&A as further progress is made.

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.

When and how will I be able to get back to work?

Government guidance on its COVID-19 recovery strategy set out on 11 May means productions in England are able to return to work if they follow guidelines that allows them to do so safely.

Health and safety of cast and crew is paramount, particularly at this moment in time. As part of the Screen Sector Task Force, the British Film Commission consulted with industry, DCMS and the Health & Safety Executive among others to develop guidance for productions on how to film safely. These provide industry with best practice on how to return to work and can be accessed here. These guidelines will 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.

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.