Freelancers set to lose £33,000, unless government extends 80% wage help to them

24 March 2020

Film and TV freelancers report average earnings of £38,000 per annum compared to government offer of £4,800, according to a new Bectu survey.

Freelancers working in film and TV reported they would normally expect to earn an average of £38,500 a year after tax and deductions.

Over 3,000 freelancers covering a range of roles including film shooting crew and post-production workers responded in 24 hours to a Bectu call out for responses.

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When respondents were also asked how much they would expect to earn in combined wages and kit rental after tax and deductions the figure rose to an average of £46,464 with certain roles quoting an expectation of over £20,000 in equipment rental earnings alone.

Many specialist roles in film and TV require people to buy their own kit and rent it to a production. These freelancers work on the basis that this expensive and specialised equipment and vehicles to move it around in are investments that will pay for themselves.

The survey also found that nearly half of the respondents had bought a car or van specifically to transport equipment and 400 respondents said that the car costs them nearly £600 a month in leasing costs.

They will still be responsible for the overheads such as loans and rental and leasing commitments while productions have ground to a halt.

Respondents also said in a normal year they would expect to work 232 days, but this year, at best, it would be less than half and as low as 91 days with shooting crew expectations even lower at 67 days.

 Head of Bectu Philippa Childs said:

“These findings show why the current government offer to the self-employed to access £94 a week through the benefits system is not enough to even cover their overheads and ensure they are in a position to financially recover from the effects of coronavirus.

“Many of our members who work as freelancers do a lot more than supply their own labour. They have significant overheads covering vehicles, software licences and insurances. They are also expected to supply thousands of pounds worth of equipment as part of the package that they provide to their engagers.”

Bectu is calling on the government to use the tax data from previous tax returns to build a picture of an average total verifiable income across different streams for each worker who claims. This must be mindful of the different methods in which self-employed workers earn income. The government would then pay grant payments covering 80% of this income (based on an average of the last year or the last 3 years, whichever is higher) with a cap of £3000 per month.

Bectu is also calling for the industry to support its workforce and set up a hardship fund for freelancers.

Darrell Briggs, a Sound Mixer/Recordist on TV Drama and Feature Films said:

“I know that there is a lot of pressure on the government to cover some of our lost wages, in line with PAYE staff who are getting up to £2,500 per month to cover lost earnings.

“Because of the way our industry works, we won’t be losing 10% or even 20% of our expected annual earnings. Most of my colleagues are expecting to lose well over 50% of what they were expecting to earn in 2020.

“More to the point, we won’t be earning equipment rental incomes. I have gear that I hire out to employers that cost me £146,000 to assemble and I would normally rent it out for £2,200 per week. This is a huge investment that I, and thousands of other freelancers like me, are expected to make to keep our industry functioning.

“The Coronavirus outbreak comes at the worst possible time of the year – at the start of one of the busiest periods. Where people in continuous employment are expecting to lose one or two months’ work, I am now very likely to lose most of the rental charges I was expecting to earn in 2020 on top of the losses of ordinary earnings that I will incur.

“Speaking to a lot of colleagues, they have taken out significant loans to purchase this equipment, with monthly repayments of over £500 in some cases, and there are no ‘payment holiday’ options for us during a period that we can’t work in.”

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