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 evolving situation. We are in daily communication with Government and working with a wide range of industry stakeholders through the BFI’s Screen Sector Task Force 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 businesses
  • Productions

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

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?

The UK Government announced a tightening of international travel 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.

Measures are regularly reviewed 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?

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 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:

  • An extension of the UK-wide Self Employment Income Support scheme to September 2021, with 600,000 more people who filed a tax return in 2019 to 2020 now able to claim for the first time. Applications for round 4 will open in late April. A fifth and final round will take place thereafter, moving from modelling grants on average profits to a requirement that applicants demonstrate a loss of at least 30% profits over the period. Find out more.
  • 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.

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) has been extended until 30 September 2021. This means employers can receive Government support for furloughed workers’ pay over this period, with the intensity of this support decreasing over the months to September. PAYE freelancers are eligible for this support provided they were on an employer’s payroll by 23:59 on 30 October 2019, and can be paid 80% of their wages by the Government for hours not worked. This allows employers to bring furloughed employees back to work on a part-time basis or furlough them full-time. 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.

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, Arts Council NI, Ffilm Cymru Wales and others. These funds are now closed.

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 its website filmtvcharity.org.uk.

Many screen sector unions and trade organisations [M1] provide 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?

Cinemas in all four nations of the UK are currently closed as part of lockdown restrictions. Each nation is operating a different roadmap out of lockdown, meaning cinemas may open from different points. England, Scotland and Wales have all announced 17 May as the earliest date at which cinemas may be opened. Northern Ireland has announced cinemas will open as part of Step Four of its roadmap out of lockdown.

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

The UK Screen Alliance has 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?

In summer 2020, the UK Government announced an unprecedented £1.57 billion Culture Recovery Fund to help Britain’s culture, arts and heritage organisations including independent cinemas hit hard by the pandemic.

The fund allocation for independent cinemas in England, administered by the BFI so far supported 209 independent cinemas across England with £27.6 million in grants through two rounds of the fund. In addition, cinemas which operate within mixed arts venues have been funded via the Arts Council England. Government has announced £300 million for a third round of the fund, with details to be published in due course. Find out more.

Similar funds have been made available in the devolved nations, run by Screen Scotland, Welsh Government and Arts Council Northern Ireland. Cinemas should check the websites of these organisations for the latest on such funding.

HMT has also confirmed that all cinemas benefit from a cut in VAT on tickets to 5% as of 15 July 2020 until the end of September 2021, followed by a 12.5% rate for a further six months until 31 March 2022.

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 repurposed the BFI Film Audience Network’s National Lottery activity funding and launched a £1 million BFI FAN COVID-19 Resilience Fund providing critical relief and business continuity available to exhibitors across the whole of the UK.  Other BFI measures included a £2 million BFI COVID-19 Production Continuation Fund and a £400,000 BFI COVID-19 UK Sales Company Organisational Fund. These funds are now closed.

What financial support measures are currently available for businesses?

UK and devolved governments have announced a series of measures designed to financially support businesses over the past year. As of the Budget in March 2021, these include:

  • Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme: This has been extended to help cover the cost of furloughed workers until 30 September 2021. More information set out below.
  • £5 billion for new Restart Grants: a one-off cash grant of up to £18,000 for hospitality, accommodation, leisure, personal care and gym businesses in England. Administered by local councils. Find out more.
  • A new UK-wide Recovery Loan Scheme to make available loans between £25,001 and £10 million, and asset and invoice finance between £1,000 and £10 million, to help businesses of all sizes through the next stage of recovery. This follows on from the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS) and Bounce Back Loan schemes made available earlier on in the pandemic. Find out more.
  • £425 million of top-up funding for the ongoing Additional Restrictions Grant scheme for councils to distribute to businesses in particularly urgent need of additional support – which could also be businesses who don’t necessarily pay business rates. Find out more.
  • Extension to the VAT cut to 5% for hospitality, accommodation and attractions across the UK until the end of September, followed by a 12.5% rate for a further six months until 31 March 2022.
  • Extension of business rates relief in England until the end of June 2021. 750,000 eligible businesses in the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors in England will benefit from business rates relief until end of June.
  • To further support the cashflow of businesses, the Government is extending the loss carry back rules worth up to £760,000 per company. Find out more.
  • Beginning April 2021, a new super-deduction will cut companies’ tax bill by 25p for every pound they invest in new equipment. This is worth around £25 billion to UK companies over the two-year period the super-deduction will be in full effect. Find out more.
  • 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 until the end of June 2021.
    • Northern Ireland: All businesses will pay zero rates for the full financial year 2020/21.
    • Scotland: Has announced a full rates relief for retail, hospitality and leisure sectors until the end of 202½2.
    • Wales: Retail, leisure and hospitality businesses with a rateable value of £500,000 or less will receive 100% business rate relief until the end of 202½2.
  • 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.
  • A new Help to Grow scheme to offer up to 130,000 companies across the UK a digital and management boost.

UK Government has announced that Corporation Tax will increase to 25% from 2023. Businesses with profits of £50,000 or less will continue to be taxed at 19% and a taper above £50,000 will be introduced so that only businesses with profits greater than £250,000 will be taxed at the full 25% rate.

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

The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (JRS) has been extended until 30 September 2021. This means any worker including PAYE freelancers that were on an employer’s PAYE payroll by 23:59 on 30 October 2019 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 2019. 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 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 updates the 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 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 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 offers productions confidence if cast member and crew illnesses and filming delays or disruptions are incurred due to COVID-19. 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.

Further changes came into effect from 1 April 2021. The deadline for productions to register for the scheme has been extended until 31 October 2021, extending to cover costs incurred until 31 December 2021.

For new applications made on or after 1 April, productions will no longer be able to submit an application after production is complete. An application to register an eligible production for the scheme must be submitted before principal photography has meaningfully started and this is quantified as being at least five days of filming, or 20% of the total number of scheduled filming days, whichever is lower.

For new applications made on or after 1 April, the fee for the scheme must be paid within 14 days of the invoice for the fee being issued to the production. For existing applications made before 1 April, the fee must be paid within 14 days starting 1 April. The period for payment of the fee may be extended on an exceptional basis to a maximum of 30 days. If the fee is not paid in accordance with the new rules, the production may not re-apply.

There is also a change to the deadline for the submission of claims. When the scheme was extended as announced in the Budget, all dates moved by six months except the deadline for claims to be submitted. This is now three months after the claims coverage deadline, rather than five months.

The DCMS is also planning to publish aggregate data and information about productions covered by the scheme such as the total value of productions and jobs created. This will be published on the Marsh website.

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.

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 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.