How freelancers can save money during the coronavirus lockdown

Weeks have now passed since Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced his plans for supporting first businesses and employees, then self-employed people.

The package of support should ease the financial burden for many self-employed people. At least, those ones who do not fall through the cracks.

But it will be months until the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme pays out to those who qualify. Payments are not expected until June.

In the meantime, finances are likely to be very tight for lots of self-employed people. Cutting back expenses is going to be important to many.

That’s both about surviving the next tough few weeks and about what comes after on the road back to long-term financial security.

So here is a rundown of some ways to make your money stretch further in this really difficult time. And don’t forget that there is a range of support and guidance available via the IPSE coronavirus hub, including webinars.

Understand your expenses

Before you can start cutting back, you need to know exactly what is coming in and going out. Some people use a budget all the time, even without a major global financial and health crisis. It means they have a much clearer understanding of their financial position.

Go through your old bank statements. They should be available via your online or app account if you do not have paper versions. Work out what payments are taken and on what day.

Once you know what bills will come out and when, you make it less likely that you will be taken by surprise by any.

Man working out his expenses

Pause what bills you can

If you subscribe to any non-essential services and you are worried about affording them, get in touch as soon as you can. Many companies are being very understanding about the situation so do not assume they will not try to help.

And if you are trapped in a contract that has months still to run then see if you can pause the service, even just for a few months. You may not be able to get out of it early, but perhaps you can freeze it while we get through this.

Energy bills are clearly an essential, but if you are struggling to pay then talk to your supplier as soon as possible. Providers have agreed to be extra helpful in this difficult time. You can read more about what help is available via the Ofgem website.

Water companies are also showing extra forbearance so if you are struggling just now then talk to them sooner rather than later.

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Take a mortgage holiday or talk to your landlord

If you are a homeowner and that big monthly mortgage bill is going to be a struggle, then perhaps you should take the opportunity to apply for a mortgage holiday.

Your lender will probably have a straightforward way of applying for this break, most likely a form on its website.

You will not have to make any payments during a three-month mortgage holiday, you do not have to pay a fee to apply, and this will not leave a negative mark on your credit file.

Having said that, you should only apply for this help if you really need it. During the holiday your mortgage debt will still accrue interest, so this is short-term help with a longer-term cost.

For tenants, the picture is slightly different. Your landlord can ask for a holiday on their buy-to-let mortgage but they have no legal obligation to provide a break for you.

But many landlords are doing whatever they can afford and yours may be able to provide you with some breathing space just now, such as a temporary reduction in rent for a fixed period or even a rent holiday.

Just be aware that most landlords who agree this will expect the rent to be repaid in the medium term.

Yes, landlords do not have to help, but they will not know you need support if you do not ask.

Get the state help you can

If your work has simply stopped then you may be able to claim Universal Credit, and doing so will not stop you qualifying for the self-employed grant in the summer.

There’s a useful calculator to show you what benefits you may be eligible for on the Turn 2 Us website.

Woman talking to her bank

Talk to your bank

When this all first kicked off, it felt like a bit of a lottery over whether your bank would be helpful or not. Now the Financial Conduct Authority has agreed some standards for banks to follow and these may be really helpful just now.

Help on offer includes payment freezes on loans and credit cards if you are struggling with repayments as well as interest-free overdrafts of up to £500 for people who have authorised overdrafts in place.

You need to contact your bank or lender to put this help into place, so visit their website to see how best to do that. Note that the helplines are often very busy.

Use your saved-up taxes

One option of absolute last resort is to use the money you would be paying to HMRC in July. The government has said it will defer this payment to January 2021, so if you are really struggling then you can use this money to meet essential costs now.

It is pretty clear why this has to be the very last option: if you do spend it then you will have to save it up again ahead of January.

So, it’s worth knowing that you can make use of this, but only do so if you have no other choices, and make sure you are clear about how much you will need to save up ahead of January.

IPSE members have access to tax and legal helplines, business cover of up to £10,000 if a client goes into administration (subject to T&Cs), and other business-saving benefits. Join them and become a member of IPSE today.

Meet the author

Felicity Hannah
Award-winning finance journalist for the BBC, ITN, Sunday Times, The Daily Mirror and more.