Dozens of arts freelancers lose out on Covid support over tax 'error'

SharecloseShare pageCopy linkAbout sharingimage copyrightITV/ShutterstockDuring more than a decade as an actress, Kya Garwood has had parts in films like Paddington 2 and Mamma Mia Here We Go Again, as well as being a stand-in and double for leading ladies like Meryl Streep, Michelle Pfeiffer and Lily James.When the pandemic hit, she should have been eligible for the government’s self-employment grants.But there was a problem. She was self-employed, but many of the production companies she had worked for had not classed her as such when paying her. So when she came to apply for coronavirus support for the self-employed, she was turned down.She estimates she has lost out on more than £20,000. Despite appeals to government tax authorities, her MP and even Chancellor Rishi Sunak directly, she hasn’t been able to overturn the decision.”I’m very angry,” she says. “I’ve paid my taxes. If it wasn’t for the savings I had from the previous productions that I’d built up, I dread to think where I’d be.”‘A very worrying time’Garwood is one of 50 actors and backstage arts workers who have found themselves without coronavirus self-employment support because their pay status was “misallocated”, according to the Equity union, which is now lobbying “very hard” for their cases to be re-examined.Garwood says she raised the problem with Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) even before the pandemic when film companies told her they were following official guidance by effectively paying her as an employee rather than as a self-employed worker.”It’s not the productions’ fault,” she says. “They’ve been following the HMRC guidelines, which were out of date.”Garwood is getting some furlough money from a part-time travel job that she slotted in between her acting. “And obviously you go through all your credit cards, because the furlough I was getting doesn’t cover your mortgage. And then you’ve got the rest of your bills to pay.”image copyrightSarah CashSarah Cash, meanwhile, was working as a freelance deputy stage manager in the West End on the Only Fools and Horses stage show when lockdown hit.Because she was given a P60, the annual tax form for Pay As You Earn (PAYE) employees, she listed her wages as PAYE earnings on her 2018/19 tax return instead of self-employment earnings.”I knew I’m self-employed, but because I got this P60 I assumed I should put it in the PAYE bit,” she says. “I didn’t realise I’d made a mistake, and it was only when I applied for the grant they said, ‘You’re not eligible.'”That was after the cut-off date to amend her tax return, however. She says she “literally went from earning a really good wage to zero overnight”. She believes she should have qualified for grants worth £7,500, which she hasn’t been able to claim.What help will the self-employed get in the Budget?Why can’t some workers get Covid help?Arts workers still ‘in serious need of help’Her husband has continued working, but it has still been “a very worrying time”, she says. “I felt very anxious about it. I’d wake up in the night thinking, oh my gosh, you’ve gone from having a secure job to nothing.”She adds: “I felt really cross with myself for making that error and having put myself in that position, and then I felt really cross with the system that there was no flexibility at all.”It just needed somebody sensible to look at it and say, ‘OK, she’s made an error, it wasn’t with any malice. So let’s use our common sense and pay her the grant that she actually is entitled to.’ It just seems really harsh and unfair.”image copyrightRoy Campell-MooreDancer Faith Prendergast discovered she too had listed her earnings incorrectly on her tax return, meaning she missed out on £8,000-£10,000 in grants.”In the grand scheme of things it’s not that much money, but it would actually help me a lot to just stay above the water,” she says.She has also not been able to persuade HMRC to reconsider, though. “It just feels impersonal and like I’ve fallen through the cracks,” she continues.”I’m lucky, I have a little bit of savings. But it’s not like I have a lot of savings for someone my age. I’m 28. It’s that time in life where you are planning for the future. And when you have to live off your savings, it kind of really messes that up.”Equity is calling on HMRC to use its “discretionary powers” to re-examine cases like these.”I’m aware of about 50 cases. I would guess there are probably more out there. A lot of these are younger members who are trying to keep going,” says the union’s tax and welfare rights officer Alan Lean.’Struggling to keep going'”For purely technical reasons, they have put their income down in the year 2018-19 on the wrong part of the [tax] return.”Part of the reason has been because the production companies have been wrongly reporting that income to HMRC when they don’t need to. And also part of the problem has stemmed from HMRC’s out-of-date payroll guidance for the entertainment sector.”This has caused some members to lose out in excess of £20,000 at a time when they are struggling to keep going and we are concerned that many of them are going to leave the profession.”The government’s coronavirus Self-Employed Income Support Scheme (SEISS) has paid three rounds of grants worth a total of £18.5bn so far.An HMRC spokesperson said it could not let anyone amend their 2018/19 tax returns to change their pay status after the scheme was announced on 26 March. That is because the organisation “would not be able to distinguish genuine amendments from fake amendments by fraudulent operators seeking to exploit the SEISS”.The spokesperson added: “If the government were to rely on amendments to 2018/19 returns made after 26 March for the SEISS, there would be significant risks for the public purse.”

Aston Martin: The billionaire building 'a British Ferrari'

SharecloseShare pageCopy linkAbout sharingThis week sees the return of one of the most evocative names in the British car industry to the top level of motorsport.On Wednesday, Aston Martin will unveil its first Formula 1 car in more than 60 years. The move into F1 is the keystone of a bold plan to revive the flagging fortunes of the company and turn it into a sporting and commercial brand to rival Ferrari.It is the brainchild of Canadian billionaire and executive chairman Lawrence Stroll. His intention, he says, is to build a business that will have “the strongest profile of any luxury automotive brand”.Providing a lifelineIn early 2020, Aston Martin Lagonda was in deep trouble. Sales were poor, and the company was burning through cash. Its shares, launched on the London stock market in 2018, had been haemorrhaging value. Lawrence Stroll provided a lifeline. A billionaire who made most of his money through investments in luxury designer brands, notably Tommy Hilfiger and Michael Kors, he led a group of investors who were willing to inject new funds into Aston Martin.The need for those funds became more acute when the effects of the Covid pandemic emerged and the industry ground to a halt. The move left Mr Stroll as executive chairman – and in charge of the company. Meanwhile, he had already taken control of an F1 team, after leading a bid for the assets of Force India, which went into administration in 2018.image copyrightAston MartinThese elements are now coming together. The F1 team, which spent two seasons competing as Racing Point, has been rebranded as Aston Martin.When it takes to the track this year, it will be the first time an Aston Martin has competed in F1 since a largely unsuccessful foray in 1959 and 1960.With four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel at the wheel, it will be used to focus attention on the car company, which has been heavily restructured.The parallels with Ferrari are evident and Mr Stroll clearly admires his Italian rivals.”Ferrari has a great business model, and there are a great deal of similarities”, he explains.”But Aston Martin has a British, iconic 108-year history. If I’m not mistaken, about 50 years longer than Ferrari!””F1, for a luxury performance automotive company, is the greatest platform in the world”.The world’s ‘best-kept secret’F1, he argues, provides both a marketing platform and an environment in which technology can be developed and refined for the next generation of roadgoing sports cars.But the car industry is changing, and while policymakers around the world are increasingly forcing manufacturers to look towards electric cars, F1 appears to have no plans to abandon fossil fuels.”F1 already uses the lowest emission power units in the world, which sadly is the world’s best kept secret,” says Mr Stroll.The F1 community, he insists, is well aware of the direction in which the world is going, and has ambitious plans for new technologies to mitigate emissions further, using new engines and special fuels.F1 billionaire owner leads rescue dealMercedes to take 20% stake in luxury brand’I saved £5,000 by charging my electric car for free’Meanwhile electrification, he says, should not be a problem for the sportscar business. “The most important thing for any company, as far as I’m concerned, is its brand. We have the greatest iconic brand in Aston Martin,” he says.Electric and hybrid technology, he explains, can simply be brought in from the German firm Mercedes Benz. The two companies have a technical partnership, while Mercedes’ parent company Daimler also has a 20% stake in Aston Martin. So as far as he is concerned the issue for the future is not so much the technology itself, as how it is sold. British brand identityHe has made clear, too, that a major part of Aston’s brand identity is its British heritage. This is, after all, the brand marketed around the world as James Bond’s company car of choice.image copyrightReutersBut Mr Stroll is Canadian. His chief executive, Tobias Moers is German. Aston Martin’s shareholders are international. So what is really left of that British identity?”There are about two and a half thousand people who work between here [in the Gaydon headquarters] and in Wales”, he says.”There are another five hundred people that work at the F1 factory in Silverstone.””As far as leadership is concerned, I most definitely am Canadian. I’ve had Canadian businesses, American businesses…”All the experience I have of building some of the best luxury businesses around the world will be brought into this business.”But its roots and its heritage and about 99% of its employees are most definitely British!”

Budget 2021: Five things to look out for

SharecloseShare pageCopy linkAbout sharingimage copyrightGetty ImagesChancellor Rishi Sunak will deliver his Budget on Wednesday, setting out the government’s tax and spending plans and forecasts for the UK economy.This year the pandemic will take centre stage, as he faces pressure to continue supporting people and businesses suffering financially, while offering a plan to repay the record £270bn borrowed by government since the crisis began. Ahead of the speech, Mr Sunak has already promised more money for UK’s vaccination rollout; a £5bn scheme to help High Street businesses reopen; and a mortgage guarantee scheme to help first-time buyers.But there are rumours he plans to raise some taxes and he’s warned of tough economic times ahead. Here are five things to look out for in Wednesday’s speech:image copyrightGetty Images1. More support for jobs and workersThe chancellor has already said he “is preparing a Budget that provides support for people” as unemployment hovers at a five-year high and four million workers are on furlough. According to reports, Mr Sunak is set to extend the job support scheme – which pays up to 80% of wages – until 30 June. That’s just over a week after the final lockdown restrictions could be lifted at the earliest.He is also tipped to extend a £20-per-week uplift to Universal Credit for six months, after intense pressure from MPs and charities to do more to help the poor get through the pandemic. Some want him to go further and make the uplift permanent – but the chancellor may resist as he struggles to get government borrowing under control.2. Will he cut business rates?Mr Sunak may have promised grants of up to £18,000 to get businesses going again, but the bigger question is what he will do about business rates.MPs across the board say the tax, which is calculated using the value of a company’s premises, is unfair and outdated. The boss of Next, Lord Simon Wolfson, recently told the BBC rates could kill off the High Street if they aren’t reformed. The chancellor is likely to leave the thorny question of what to do about the tax – including levying a so called “Amazon tax” on online retailers – until the autumn. However, reports suggest he will extend the business rates holiday – brought in last year to support shops – beyond its current end date of 31 March and into the summer.A lower VAT rate for pubs and restaurants and local authority grants for struggling businesses are also expected to be extended. image copyrightGetty Images3. Will he raise taxes?Despite the anticipated generosity, the chancellor has said he will use the Budget to “level” with the public about the challenges facing the economy and the need to repay the vast amounts of public money spent during the pandemic. According to reports, Mr Sunak is likely to announce several tax increases – although whatever he does will probably have to fit around the Conservative party’s manifesto pledge not to raise income tax, national insurance or VAT. Many think he will instead raise corporation tax from its current level of 19% to 23%, which is still below the G7 average. It would be staggered over the course of the parliament, reportedly bringing in £12bn.There are also rumours he will freeze the personal income tax allowance, which usually rises in line with inflation, pushing many taxpayers into higher bands and netting HMRC about £6bn.Labour leader Kier Starmer has argued tax rises risk “choking off” a rapid economic revival after the pandemic. The Treasury Committee of MPs has also said now is “not the right time” – although they said “significant fiscal measures, including revenue raising” would be needed in future.image copyrightPA Media4. Help for levelling up?The chancellor is also likely to set out his vision for a post-Covid (and -Brexit) economy, which could mean more money for “levelling up” different parts of the UK.According to the Financial Times, he is preparing to announce the locations of freeports – special economic zones with low taxes that would help stimulate regional growth.He’s also expected to announce more spending on measures to help the UK meet its decarbonisation goals. Details of the UK’s first “green gilt” – a type of bond that would let people invest in green infrastructure projects – could be shared. There are also likely to be measures to promote more environmentally friendly homes and renewable energy – although he is not expected to raise fuel duty. image copyrightGetty Images5. Stamp duty holiday extensionThe stamp duty holiday introduced last year not only propped up the housing market at the start of the crisis, it also drove up the average value of a home by 8.5% in 2020.That tax break is up at the end of March, and many buyers have found themselves facing big bills if they don’t complete their transactions on time. However, Mr Sunak will extend stamp duty holiday to prevent this cliff edge, reports suggest. The government mortgage guarantee scheme will offer 95% mortgages for houses worth up to £600,000. It is based on the Help to Buy mortgage guarantee scheme, which closed to new loans at the end of 2016, a policy the Treasury said “reinvigorated the market for high loan-to-value lending after the 2008 financial crisis”.But housing charity Shelter said that scheme increased house prices by 1.4%, making housing less affordable for many. What is the Budget and when will it happen?Sunak pledges help in ‘remaining stages of crisis’Low-deposit buyers to get mortgage boost in BudgetWhy Sunak says he will be ‘open and honest’ over the Budget £5bn fund to help High Street recover from Covid

Zoom sees more growth after 'unprecedented' 2020

SharecloseShare pageCopy linkAbout sharingimage copyrightGetty ImagesZoom boss Eric Yuan, whose business exploded during the pandemic, says working from home is here to stay.The video conferencing company expects sales to rise more than 40% this year, reaching more than $3.7bn (£2.66bn).The forecast pushed shares in the company up more than 6% in after-hours trade in New York.Investors have been watching for clues as to how the firm would fare as more people get vaccinated and social distancing restrictions lift.Zoom said it did not expect growth to continue at the pace it enjoyed last year, but so far business remains strong.The firm’s sales in the last three months of 2020 were up 370% compared to the same period in 2019, hitting $882.5m. “The fourth quarter marked a strong finish to an unprecedented year for Zoom,” company boss Eric Yuan said. “As the world emerges from the pandemic, our work has only begun.”‘The future is here’The pandemic, which prompted an abrupt shift to remote work for many businesses around the world, transformed Zoom into a household name practically overnight.The firm, which charges businesses for its remote meeting software in addition to more limited free use for the general public, saw sales soar 326% to $2.6bn in 2020. Profits jumped from just $21.7m in 2019 to $671.5m.While some companies have started to ease staff back into the office, many others have said they expect that some of the increased flexibility introduced during the pandemic will linger.”The future is here with the rise of remote and work from anywhere trends,” Mr Yuan said in prepared remarks for investors. “We recognize this new reality and are helping to empower our own employees and those of our customers to work and thrive in a distributed manner.” Susannah Streeter, analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, said Zoom’s fate would depend on how it manages to compete against firms such as Microsoft and Google, which have introduced similar features.”Although it stole an early march on other players in the first few months of the crisis, it does now have much stiffer competition from the likes of Microsoft and Google who have significantly upped their game,” she wrote in a research note.”It may be that we have become so used to pandemic habits that we will stick with our virtual social lives, particularly for long distance friendships and work relationships. But just how large a slice of the live video pie Zoom manages to hang on to will depend on how it matches up to its powerful rivals.”