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 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 and businesses
  • 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. Find out more.
  • Advice for patients is available on NHS Choices regarding symptoms is available. Find out more.
  • Advice on support for business is available. Find out more.

The mental health charity Mind has also provided advice and guidance on how to look after your mental health at this time. Find out more.

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

Following identification of a new variant of the virus, international travel from your area may be increasingly restricted because of domestic regulations. Different rules apply in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. For example, those in England will not be permitted to travel abroad apart from limited exceptions, such as work purposes. Other countries have closed borders, and may restrict movement or bring in new quarantine rules with little warning. Government has provided advice on things to consider, and you should be prepared to stay overseas longer than planned.

The UK Government has announced a tightening of restrictions from 4am on Monday 18 January 2021 for at least 1 month to prevent and suppress the spread of new variants of coronavirus into the UK, such as those first identified in Brazil and South America.

This means the quarantine exemption for film and high-end television production has been suspended from this date. All international arrivals to the UK from any country (including British and Irish nationals) must now take a pre-departure test and self-isolate for 10 days. Passengers must continue to fill in a passenger locator form and have a negative test before travelling to the UK.

The Government’s Test to Release scheme will remain in place, giving passengers the option to shorten the mandatory self-isolation period to as little as 5 days. However, they will still need to adhere to national restrictions in place upon release from self-isolation. Information on this is available here.

The new measures will be reviewed on Monday 15 February,  while further work takes place to manage the threat posed by coronavirus variants.

Full information on travelling to the UK is updated on GOV.UK including details on the exemption list, the passenger locator form and COVID testing requirements.

Freelancers and the self-employed

Am I able to work at the moment?

As of January 5 2021, production is able to continue under lockdown restrictions currently in place in all four nations of the UK, so long as 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 Task Force’s work. Find out more.

The British Film Commission will be updating their guidance in due course in response to the current situation, so please check back here regularly for updates.

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. Find out more.

The UK Screen Alliance has also consulted with industry to develop guidelines for VFX and post-production. Find out more.

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 scheme has been extended, with claims due before 29 January 2021. Self-employed people can now claim support for up to 80% of profits as opposed to the previous rate of 55%. More information
  • 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 facing difficulty in paying tax bills at the moment. A helpline can be reached at 0800 0159 559.
  • Mortgage holidays: Government has extended its mortgage holiday scheme in England, allowing homeowners a payment holiday for up to six months without it affecting their credit file.

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 Businesses section below for further detail.

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

The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (JRS) was previously due to close at the end of October but the Government has confirmed that it will extend the JRS until 30 April 2021. This means any worker including PAYE freelancers that were on an employer’s payroll by 23:59 on 30 October 2020 can be paid 80% of their wages by the 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. Find out more.

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 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.

Applications are currently open for the Arts Council of Northern Ireland’s Individuals Emergency Resilience Programme 2, which makes funding available to support freelancers. The deadline for application is 4pm Thursday 7 January. Find out more.

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 by calling the helpline on 0800 054 0000 or on on its website filmtvcharity.org.uk.

Many screen sector unions and trade organisations [M1] are providing advice and support to their members. This includes:

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?

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

As of January 5 2021, cinemas and businesses are governed by the following restrictions in the various nations:

  • England: All cinemas must close as part of the current lockdown.. Workplaces must also close except where work cannot take place from home. Find out more.
  • Scotland: Cinemas must close as part of a national lockdown in place.
  • Wales: All cinemas are closed as part of current lockdown restrictions.
  • Northern Ireland: All cinemas are closed as part of current lockdown restrictions.

The UK Cinema Association has developed guidelines for how cinemas can reopen safely.

The UK Screen Alliance have produced similar guidelines for VFX and post-production.

The Government has also produced guidance for other businesses. These provide a blueprint for opening when restrictions allow.

What support measures have been announced for cinemas and exhibitors?

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

This includes a £30 million allocation for independent cinemas in England, administered by the BFI. The Fund has so far supported more than 200 independent cinemas across England with £16 million in grants, with awards continuing to be made. Cinemas will be able to apply for another £14m in grants in early 2021 as part of the second round of the Culture Recovery Fund and due to open for applications shortly. The new round of funding is in addition to the £30m already being allocated by the BFI. Find out more.

Similar funds have been made available in the devolved nations, run by Screen Scotland, Welsh Government and the Northern Ireland Executive. These are now closed.

HMT has also confirmed that all cinemas benefit from a cut in VAT on tickets to 5% as of 15 July 2020.

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 the March 2020 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. This has now closed.

What financial support measures are currently available for businesses?

The UK Government announced £4.6 billion in new lockdown grants on 5 January 2021. This includes one-off grants worth up to £9,000 for retail, hospitality and leisure sector businesses in England, as well as discretionary funds made available locally. Equivalent funding will be made available to Scottish Government (£375 million), Welsh Government (£227 million) and the Northern Ireland Executive (£127 million). Further detail is needed on how this funding aligns with other support schemes such as the Culture Recovery Fund and we will update this page as it becomes available.

Other measures to support businesses include the following:

  • Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme: This has been extended to help cover the cost of furloughed workers until 30 April 2021. 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 March. Find out more.
  • 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. Find out more.
  • Credit and cashflow measures:
    • The 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.
  • 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. Find out more.
    • 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.
    • Wales: Retail, leisure and hospitality businesses with a rateable value of £500,000 or less will receive 100% business rate relief in 2020/21. Find out more.
  • 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.

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

The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (JRS) was previously due to close at the end of October but the Government has confirmed that it will extend the JRS for an additional month until 30 April 2021. 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. Find out more.

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, 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?

As of January 5 2021, production is able to continue under lockdown restrictions currently in place in all four nations of the UK, so long as 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. Find out more

The British Film Commission will be updating their guidance in due course in response to the current situation, so please check regularly for updates.

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. Find out more.

The UK Screen Alliance has also consulted with industry to develop guidelines for VFX and post-production. Find out more.

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.

Find out more

Since its announcement, the scope of the Restart Scheme has been extended so that cast and crew over the age of 70 can be included in the cover provided by the scheme. The deadline for productions to register for the scheme has also been extended until April 2021, extending the period for film and high-end TV projects planning to shoot in the spring.

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 need to move cast and crew internationally as part of my production. What does this mean in terms of travel restrictions?

The UK Government has announced a tightening of restrictions from 4am on Monday 18 January 2021 for at least 1 month to prevent and suppress the spread of new variants of coronavirus into the UK, such as those first identified in Brazil and South America.

This means the quarantine exemption for film and high-end television production has been suspended from this date. All international arrivals to the UK from any country (including British and Irish nationals) must now take a pre-departure test and self-isolate for 10 days. Passengers must continue to fill in a passenger locator form and have a negative test before travelling to the UK.

The Government’s Test to Release scheme will remain in place, giving passengers the option to shorten the mandatory self-isolation period to as little as 5 days. However, they will still need to adhere to national restrictions in place upon release from self-isolation. Information on this is available here.

The new measures will be reviewed on Monday 15 February,  while further work takes place to manage the threat posed by coronavirus variants.

Full information on travelling to the UK is updated on GOV.UK including details on the exemption list, the passenger locator form and COVID testing requirements.

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. Find out more.

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. If you have any questions please email anna.mansi@bfi.org.uk or certifications@bfi.org.uk.

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.