CEO update June 2021: Opening the economy, regulating umbrellas, NFD, the IPSE community and more

May was a big step in the Roadmap – the closest the country has been to open since  summer last year. But what impact is this having on freelancers, contractors and the self-employed? Well, our Confidence Index shows the average freelancer’s earnings are almost back to pre-pandemic levels. Their confidence in the economy, too, is back up to a level not seen since before the EU Referendum. But this is not the whole story.

IR35 and the Wild West of umbrella companies

We understand that for our members – especially contractors – this is far from being a time of pure optimism and hope. The changes to IR35 – introduced at the worst possible time after the damage of the pandemic – have left the contracting sector in a state of chaos. Not only have many clients still not responded to the changes; those who have have pressed contractors into the poorly regulated world of umbrella companies.

We have been tracking the impact of the changes to IR35 closely – listening to your stories in our Member Meet-Ups and our Members Forum and also continuing our research to gather evidence to take to government. Our Confidence Index, for example, shows that while contractors are much more confident in the economy, their confidence in their businesses is actually still falling. Our research on the opening up of the economy – and thank you to everyone who took part – showed four out of five contractors are worried about the impact of IR35.

The most pressing question with IR35 is umbrella companies. We know many of you have now been pushed into working through umbrella companies for the first time, and we know this is worrying because, quite simply, government has not done the work to regulate them. As we said in the Guardian last month, while some umbrellas are compliant, there are many others who aren’t. It is a Wild West that must be tamed and regulated. We have a two-pronged approach to this; first, we are pressing government: ultimately, this is their mess because of IR35 and they must clean it up – for the good of contractors and the economy. Second, we have beefed up our benefits to make sure that if you have to work through an umbrella company for one of your contracts, you have peace of mind and security. We will keep pushing on both fronts, finding ways to make the post-IR35 landscape better for contractors.

The last stretch and rebuilding

Beyond the IR35 mess, there are other areas where government must do more for the self-employed as we – we hope – emerge from the pandemic. Debt has become an enormous problem across the self-employed community – especially among those excluded from support during the pandemic. For many, the government’s Bounce Back Loans were the only option for support, meaning a growing mountain of debt over the last year. We are working with other groups to develop responses to this – government interventions to ease the strain and try to make up for some of the damage it caused by excluding millions from support.

Despite the ‘Roadmap’, it is also sadly and abundantly clear the pandemic is far from over. It is a distinct possibility that government might have to push back its final opening date over concerns about the Indian variant. This could have a drastic impact on many industries – not least the freelancer-dominated events and creative industries. The time is clearly passed for huge-scale support schemes like SEISS, but that doesn’t mean the need for support is gone. If the final opening date is pushed back from June 21st, we will be working with other groups to press government for targeted industry- and locality-based support. We are not out of this yet and for each step, government must protect this country’s vital self-employed community.

IPSE community – into the future

The start of last month saw our AGM, at which I was proud to announce that despite the impact of the pandemic, IPSE turned a profit in the last year and we are now in a strong position going into the coming year. The AGM was also important as a space for members to engage with and get involved in their membership organization – and I would like to thank everyone who joined live or submitted a proxy vote.

Looking to the future, we are working to build more than ever on the IPSE community – to keep bringing our members together to hear their views and make this truly a member-built organization. Our Members’ Forum continues its work – and I would encourage you to engage with its representatives about your cares and concerns and what you would like to see more of in IPSE. The same is true of our Community Forums, where you can log in, chat to other members and share thoughts about IPSE and the world of self-employment.

We are working, too, to bring back more of a live element to the IPSE Community with our IPSE Member Meet-Ups, where members have been networking, chatting and sharing their experiences and advice about some of the most pressing issues in self-employment from IR35 to umbrella companies.

As we work to build the IPSE community, you can help too by not only joining our events and engaging with us, but also by inviting family, friends and colleagues to join the community too – with our Member Referral Scheme. Essentially, friends, family and colleagues receive a discount on their membership and you receive a bonus of the same amount in Amazon vouchers.

National Freelancers Day 2021

Perhaps the most important means of building not just the IPSE community, but the national freelancing community, is, of course, National Freelancers Day. After our award-winning virtual event last year, this year’s National Freelancers Day – headlined by Lliana Bird – will focus on many of the themes here: above all, how to prepare your business for the post-pandemic world. The programme is out, the speakers are set – you can even download the app to start planning your day: and, don’t forget – if you are an IPSE member, tickets are free this year. I would wholeheartedly urge you to sign up now.

The IPSE Marketplace

As well as advising freelancers on how to prepare for the post-pandemic world, we are also giving our members the tools and means to make the most of it – with the IPSE Marketplace. The Marketplace is a space where members can get exclusive discounts on helpful tools and products designed to make freelancers’ lives easier: from training to tax management software. There are two new training provider additions this month – BeLiminal and the London School of Sales.

Looking to the future

We seem to be in a strange time: not out of the pandemic; not even sure we’re moving out of it. For the self-employed and particularly contractors, it is a doubly odd time: other sectors of the economy seem to be buzzing – raring to go – while this most important of sectors has been undermined by the IR35 changes and the umbrella situation. What I do know, however, is that the unparalleled energy of the self-employed sector is there: pent up and held back by poor government policy. Both by preparing and supporting you and your business – and by pushing government to improve the landscape and stimulate freelance businesses – we will unleash the energy of the self-employed sector and return it to its rightful commanding position in the economy.

IR35 Hub

For 20 years, IPSE has been not only campaigning against IR35, but also advising contractors and the self-employed on how to navigate it. Learn more about IR35 and how it may affect you by visiting our IR35 Hub.

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Meet the authors

Derek Cribb

CEO

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.