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COVID-19: Answering questions from the screen sectors

Last updated: 3 April 2020

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, ensuring everybody understands the ramifications of the most critical issues, and has a part in shaping measures to address them.

This Q&A sets out information and guidance we have so far 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:

The BFI and The Film + TV Charity have also partnered to create a new industry-backed COVID-19 Film and TV Emergency Relief Fund to help support the creative community, established with a £1m donation from Netflix and extended with a £500,000 donation from the BBC. The Film + TV Charity is currently working on the precise eligibility criteria and level of individual funding but the fund will be open to those working in production, distribution and exhibition. To be the first to hear when the fund launches, applicants should register for the charity’s mailing lists at filmtvcharity.org.uk/keep-in-touch

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 will be 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 and 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, including the US. 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 is causing productions and exhibitors across the UK to shut down. This means a vast number of freelancers are losing work, as are 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 confirmed 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. 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 so far?

(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. Initial 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; those who were late in submitting this have four weeks from 26 March to complete their return 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 will be contacted directly by HMRC and asked to complete an online form. Payment will be made directly into the recipient’s bank account.
    • It is expected that first payments will be made no later than the beginning of June.
    • 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.
    • This scheme will be open for at least three months and will be extended if necessary.
    • Further detail on how the scheme, including how it will work for those with a period of sick or maternity leave in the previous three years, is expected in the coming weeks.
  • Access to universal credit and sick pay: 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 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. Time to Pay was previously used in response to flooding and the financial crisis. 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 will be administering a £500m Hardship Fund. Most of this will be used to provide council tax relief. The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government will set out more detail on this funding shortly.
  • Mortgage holidays: Government has confirmed that those with mortgages will be offered at least a three month mortgage holiday. More detail on how this is enacted will be set out in due course.

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 support is available for me?

The BFI is working closely with DCMS and industry partners to ensure PAYE freelancers are properly supported by Government measures, including through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme where possible (more information on this scheme is provided below). We will provide further guidance as soon as we are able.

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

The BFI and The Film + TV Charity have partnered to create a new industry-backed COVID-19 Film and TV Emergency Relief Fund to help support the creative community, established with a £1m donation from Netflix and extended with a £500,000 donation from the BBC. The Film + TV Charity is currently working on the precise eligibility criteria and level of individual funding, but the fund will be open to those working in production, distribution and exhibition. To be the first to hear when the fund launches, applicants should register for the charity’s mailing lists at filmtvcharity.org.uk/keep-in-touch

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 has also announced a £1.5m Screen Bridging Bursary programme which will provide one-off bursaries to freelance PAYE and self-employed screen sector workers who are experiencing immediate financial difficulty. They are also developing a Single Project Development Fund. More here.

Those in immediate and urgent need should apply for support via The Film + TV Charity’s existing hardship fund, offering grants of up to £500 to provide stop-gap support. This hardship fund will sit alongside the new Film and TV Covid-19 Emergency Relief Fund. Details on eligibility and how to apply can be found 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.

A number of membership bodies are taking steps to support freelancers and the self-employed too. The Production Guild is delaying all membership subscriptions until 1 June. The Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed (IPSE) has set out guidance for freelancers and self-employed people, encouraging them to take that the following steps:

  • Discuss preparations with their clients, including how to work remotely.
  • Consider whether contracts include ‘force majeure’ clauses which may cover the impact of coronavirus on contractual obligations.
  • Check what health or income protection insurance they have in place. There are a number of options available if you are not currently covered, but IPSE cautions that these policies often have a deferral period of three to four weeks and may not provide appropriate cover if you are forced to self-isolate

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) 

How is COVID-19 impacting cinemas and screen businesses?

Cinemas have closed and cancelled upcoming events including festivals in light of social distancing measures, while distributors are pulling the release of upcoming films. This results in a huge loss of revenue and threatens many 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.

Will my insurance cover the impact of COVID-19?

The Chancellor has confirmed 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.

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

Government has announced support for those running businesses. Initial measures were set out on March 11 as part of Budget 2020. These have been extended through a series of daily announcements since the onset of social distancing measures. 

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 will cover 80% of workers’ salaries up to a maximum of £2,500 a month, with employers free to top up the total. The scheme will cover costs backdated to 1 March and will be open for at least 3 months. There will be no limit on the funding available overall and no limit on the number of grants made. 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. Government aims to have this scheme set up by the end of April. Details on how to make use of this scheme are available here.
  • Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme: The Government has launched a new, 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. The scheme provides lenders with a guarantee of 80% on each loan (subject to a per lender cap on claims) to give lenders further confidence in continuing to provide finance to SMEs. The Government will not charge businesses or banks as part of this guarantee, and the Scheme will support loans of up to £5m in value (increased from £1.2m in the Chancellor’s statement on 17 March). No interest will be due for the first twelve months (extended from six months by the Chancellor on 20 March). 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. Further details on how to apply are set out 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.
    ○ Coronavirus Large Business Interruption Loan Scheme: announced on 2nd April to in order to help the ‘squeezed middle’ of businesses not covered by other measures, this will allow companies with turnover of between £45m and £500m to borrow up to £25m, largely guaranteed by the state. The loans will not be interest-free but should still provide a lifeline for the “squeezed middle” companies that are unable to access either of the existing bailout schemes. More information here.
  • Investment for SMEs: Businesses with a rateable value of less than £51,000 will also be 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 — more here, while the Scottish Government and Northern Ireland Executive are providing similar measures too, with specific measures for those working in leisure, hospitality and retail. The BFI is working with partners on what measures may be taken to support those companies which do not qualify for small business rates relief.
  • 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 was previously used in response to flooding and the financial crisis. 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.
  • 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 been told to self-isolate because of COVID-19. Employers should maintain records of staff absences. Employees will not need to provide a GP fit note, but staff should complete the ‘isolation note’ available at NHS 111 online. The eligible period for the scheme began on 13 March. The government will work with employers over the coming months to set up the repayment mechanism for employers as soon as possible.
  • 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.

Should we expect any further Government support measures to be announced for businesses?

While further announcements have not been confirmed, the BFI and other sector stakeholders are working closely with the Government to ensure that measures support the sector as effectively as possible.

What other support is available to businesses?

A statement by UK Finance on behalf of the sector announced that banks, building societies and credit card providers are ready and able to offer support to consumers, including offering or increasing an overdraft or allowing repayment relief for loan or mortgage repayments. Banks and other providers of SME finance will also provide support for businesses that are facing cash-flow disruption and stand ready to help when needed. Private lenders making special funds available for small businesses impacted by COVID-19 include £2bn from Lloyds Banking Group and £5bn from NatWest. Government has welcomed this response.

Facebook has announced a $100m cash grant scheme for 30,000 businesses across 30 eligible countries. Further details on the scheme and how to apply will be set out in the coming weeks, but initial detail is available here.

Cinema for All provides advice and guidance for community cinemas on how to respond to the COVID-19 crisis here.

Productions

How is COVID-19 impacting productions?

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

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

The UK government has not announced any tailored support measures designed to support productions thus far. We advise productions to follow the guidance below in order to help mitigate the impact of COVID-19 as effectively as possible.

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.

Health and safety of cast and crew is paramount, particularly at this moment in time. We advise all productions to ensure they operate in line with the latest advice provided by UK Government and the NHS. 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.

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

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