More than 110,000 self-employed workers have applied for income support grants within hours of the Government’s new scheme being launched.
HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) said applications worth more than £340 million were lodged within the first four hours after the self-employment income support scheme (SEISS) opened on Wednesday.
The scheme offers grants worth up to 80% of average trading profits for self-employed workers stuck at home due to coronavirus, paid in a single instalment capped at £7,500 to cover three months of lost income.
Payments are due to land within six working days, the Government said.
It is the biggest direct financial support package for freelancers and the self-employed – including plumbers, builders and hairdressers – since the lockdown started, and claims for lost work can be dated back to March.
The Government has not said whether it will be extended in line with the furlough scheme protecting 80% of employees’ wages up to £2,500 a month.
Launched at 8am on Wednesday, the scheme is run by HMRC, which has been operating and overseeing loan schemes and the Government’s furlough payments.
Everyone eligible for the SEISS will be able to receive the Government grant by May 25, or within six days of a completed claim, it added.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak said: “With payments arriving before the end of this month, the self-employed across the UK will have money in their pockets to help them through these challenging times.”
Those able to make a claim have already been contacted by HMRC and can use a unique reference to make their claim.
Derek Cribb, chief executive of IPSE (the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed), said: “For the self-employed, coronavirus is not only a health crisis, but also a pressing income crisis.
“We are delighted that the Government has heeded much of IPSE’s advice by setting up the self-employment income support scheme, which extends a much-needed lifeline to those self-employed people who are eligible for it.”
Mike Cherry, national chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses, said: “The self-employment income support scheme represents a lifeline for the millions of self-employed people who are expected to qualify.
“I would encourage all those who think they are eligible to use the online checker if they’ve not done so yet, and to apply on the date allocated.
“We are particularly pleased to see the scheme opening earlier than scheduled, with a simple fast-track application and a promise for speedy payment.”
In an interview with the BBC, Mr Sunak was asked if he would extend the grants, and replied: “We’re looking at the best thing to do but… the reason for that is slightly different in that many of those self-employed people are not in sectors which are necessarily closed or have an employer who has reduced their hours.
“It is a slightly different scheme which I was clear about at the beginning, but what I would say to those people, millions of those people who are eligible, ahead of schedule the scheme is now open, they can apply this week, they’ll be getting the emails and they will have the same amount of support based on their historical earnings… by the end of the month.”
Mr Sunak also said the furlough scheme is “costing in the run rate of around £8 billion per month at the moment” and added it “breaks my heart” that people have lost their jobs as a result of the crisis.