August CEO update: Improving your membership, Board changes and threats to freelancing this Autumn

It may be a lively summer as our reopened economy begins to recover, but at IPSE, we know things are not yet back to normal for the self-employed. Not only is the sector not yet recovered from the damage of the pandemic; there are also hints of a freelancer tax raid in the Autumn Budget from the Chancellor, while on the opposition benches, new policy proposals threaten self-employed status itself. And while cuts to Universal Credit threaten low income freelancers, there are more and more reports of HMRC clawbacks for SEISS and furlough payments looming over freelancers across the board.

At IPSE, we’ve been working hard to advise and support our members through these challenges, as well as fight against damaging proposals and tax hikes. And this month, I was particularly proud to launch our 2020-21 Impact report, detailing just how much we have done on all these fronts. In it, you will find all we’ve done in the last year to defend your freedom to freelance, as well as how we’re continuing to reshape our membership around your feedback and champion self-employment across the UK.

Some changes in our Board

After a transformational year, our Chair Matt Searle is stepping down. Matt became Chair of IPSE early on in the pandemic and has overseen the development and implementation of a new strategy and the strengthening of the organisation’s balance sheet during an extremely unusual and eventful year. He will be sorely missed.

Matt says: “It’s been a pleasure and a privilege to be Chair of IPSE over the last year or so. I’m deeply proud of the work we’ve done supporting members and the wider self-employed community through these strange times. However, I’ve decided now is the time to pass on the responsibility to a new independent chair to take IPSE forward in these exciting times as we exit the pandemic.”   

All of us at IPSE would like to thank Matt for his work here over the last year. We are pleased to announce we have two experienced interim co-chairs, Mandy Clarke and Iain Sturrock, who will continue to oversee IPSE and our work until we find a new permanent, independent chair to lead us into the next phase of our strategy. Details of the role will be posted on our website shortly: please do make sure you bring them to the attention of any and all suitable candidates in your networks - IPSE members or any experienced leaders. 

Threats to freelancing – on the horizon and closer to home

The end of lockdown brought some respite after a difficult winter for freelancers – although this was soon supplanted by the ‘pingdemic’ chaos, which, as we commented in the media, once again saw the self-employed fall through the gaps in the government’s support. From next week, however, double vaccinated freelancers will no longer have to isolate. But there are more risks ahead for freelancers.

SEISS and furlough investigations

One is the burdensome and potentially costly HMRC investigations that are now starting into freelancers’ SEISS and furlough claims. We know of several Limited Company directors who have been sent so-called “nudge letters” already. However, I am pleased to be able to tell you that if you are an IPSE Plus or Standard Member, you are now protected against this: IPSE tax investigation will cover you against SEISS and furlough probes.

Universal Credit changes

August has also seen the reintroduction of the Minimum Income Floor for Universal Credit, in practice cutting many self-employed people off from it. Ahead of the change, we spoke in the media, warning that as many as 200,000 freelancers could be cut off from UC when they are still suffering from the financial damage of the pandemic. We have pressed for government to scrap the Minimum Income Floor altogether.

IR35 and tax threats

We are still also pushing on the changes to IR35 and urging government to clear up the mess left in their wake. This month we have seen yet more unintended consequences of the changes to IR35 in the haulage crisis – where a combination of IR35 and Brexit have made HGV driving no longer viable for many contractors.

As if the damage from IR35 wasn’t enough, it seems the government may be considering further tax hikes on self-employed people. After increases to corporation tax were announced in March, the government shelved plans to announce a further hike to self-employed National Insurance Contributions this month – but it remains very much on the table for the Autumn Budget. After a tremendously difficult 18 months for freelancers, you can be sure IPSE will fight tooth and nail against any tax hikes on the UK’s smallest businesses – the 4.2 million self-employed.

IPSE’s Impact: What we’re doing for freelancers

As well as campaigning on the issues we know matter most to you, we’ve also been working hard to build up our member offering, which you can read about in our Impact Report, which launched earlier this month. In last year’s Member Survey, you told us we were going in the right direction, but we’ve also been doing even more based on your feedback and bolstering the areas we know you care most about.  

Engaging the IPSE community

For a start, we’ve broadened the ways you can engage not only with us but also with the wider IPSE freelance community. We’ve launched monthly IPSE Member Meet-Ups, we’ve built up our policy and research committee, we’ve reinvigorated our community forums and we’re now launching a new research community, where you can share your experiences to guide our research and campaigning. We’ve even started a new Secret Contractor blog, where you can anonymously tell us your experiences in the world of contracting.

More guidance, more support

We know now more than ever, the freelance community is also looking for more guidance and support, so we’ve beefed up our advice pages to include guidance on everything from setting up your own business and winning work to navigating the government’s Covid support schemes and their aftermath.

We’ve expanded our member benefits too, to include not only insurance against SEISS or furlough investigations as I mentioned, but also to protect you while working through umbrella companies. Read our 2020-21 Impact Report to find out about how we’ve not only expanded our benefits, but also carried out vital research across the sector, run scores of webinars and secured millions of media impressions to champion the cause of self-employment in the UK.

Into an exciting future for IPSE

The challenges to self-employment are still great: from IR35 to the threat of tax rises. But as the economy re-opens and freelance work is now flowing again, there is cause for optimism too. Our new permanent chair will be leading IPSE into an exciting time for freelancing and working harder than ever to build a fair working landscape for freelancers. Not only pushing back against threatened tax rises, but building a fair and functional tax system. Not only rebuilding from the pandemic, but building up a more empowered and supported freelance workforce.

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Meet the authors

IPSE
IPSE is the leading association for contractors, consultants, interims, freelancers and the self-employed. We strive to bring our members the most comprehensive and useful range of information and services and all the latest news about what affects your business.
Derek Cribb

CEO