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Time is Running Out for UK Advertising’s Forgotten Freelancers



Matt Keen explains why he started the #WeAreLtd campaign, calling for financial support for British freelancers registered as limited companies

Time is Running Out for UK Advertising’s Forgotten Freelancers
Back when the UK first locked down in response to coronavirus, British chancellor Rishi Sunak announced an extensive range of support for businesses and workers, including a new grant to help support self-employed workers who have lost income during the Covid-19 crisis. 

But for many freelancers who work as owner-directors of their own limited companies, there is a gaping hole in the government's support package. 

While furlough schemes and grants prop up (at least for the short term) many other workers and businesses, freelance producer Matt Keen found himself falling through a hole in the financial safety net. That’s why he’s started the #WeAreLtd campaign. 

As the campaign’s LinkedIn page explains: “There are 5.8 million small businesses in the UK with 13 million employees contributing billions to the economy. These businesses and the hardworking owner-directors who run them have fallen between the cracks of the government’s support during the Covid-19 pandemic. Without a review of the rescue measures, many of these businesses will have no option but cease to trade, with devastating effects on the individuals and families they support.”

The campaign serves as a hub for the latest relevant developments, most effective action strategies and a platform to collectively obtain a louder voice on the national stage.

Today the campaign released a new film calling people to action.

We checked in with Matt about why the campaign is so urgent.

LBB> Firstly the basics, why are so many freelancers in the UK like yourself registered as limited companies?

Matt> We take advice from our accountants. Few of us care for the finer points of tax law so do what we’re told. We’re creative people. Also, some companies require you to be registered as a Limited Company to work for them, so it’s not always our choice.

LBB> Due to Covid-19, what situation do you find yourself in now?

Matt> Unable to work until schools re-open, even to stack shelves at a supermarket. My wife works on domestic abuse cases and has never been busier, leaving me as the sole child carer four out of five days a week. Even when the lockdown is over and we’re allowed to work again, that doesn’t mean I’ll find work straight away, so until my next job I’m just burning my savings with no end in sight. In addition many staff have been made redundant so the environment will be more competitive than ever. Companies marketing budgets may be slashed, meaning potentially less work to share around.

LBB> And how does the UK government's support fall short for freelancers like you? What can you do to try and keep the bills paid?

Matt> No one has really known what’s been available to us. My accountant is a big West End firm, not a bloke above a chip shop. Martin Lewis hasn’t been able to decipher it last time I checked. Yesterday they started offering us a loan scheme. A. Loan. Scheme. Taking out a loan (even on favourable terms) is NOT a good idea when you have no income and no idea of when you’ll next work. I’ve paid my taxes and National Insurance just like everyone else, yet because of a technicality (Dividends vs PAYE apparently), we get no government assistance paying the bills. I remember one year paying more tax than Facebook, yet in our hour of need we’re offered a loan? Give me a break.

LBB> Can you talk me through how your #WeAreLtd idea came together?

Matt> I saw a post on Linkedin from Chas Bayfield that made me laugh. I recognised his name as he wrote Blackcurrant Tango ‘St George’, one of the most famous and celebrated ads of all time. We connected on LinkedIn and I mentioned that I had an idea around being ‘Limited’. Chas said he liked the idea, we set up a call and brainstormed. Chas put a scamp together then his friend Martin Casson finessed the design. I’m losing track of time like everyone at the moment but we did it in a couple of days.

LBB> What sort of response has it had? Apart from the magnitude, what have been the various positions people have taken?

Matt> Approaching 17,000 views on LinkedIn so far. Given that there are 19,000 self employed people working in advertising that’s a pretty significant number. I’ve received many messages from people either in the same boat, or fighting the same fight. In fact I’m having a conference call with the head of a marketing organisation tomorrow to discuss it. Lots of confusion online about what we’re entitled to, lots of scared people of which I’m one.

LBB> What would your ideal response from the government be?

Matt> Treat us like anyone else. Just because we’re registered as Limited doesn’t mean we’re running big companies. We’re individuals who have paid taxes for years, and now need a little Government help. Surely at the very least something could be based on tax returns submitted to HMRC over the years? We’re also looking for help from industry voices and bodies like LBB and the IPA to lobby on our behalf. If you work at the IPA please get in touch.

LBB> Is there anything else you'd like to add or stress?

Matt> Everyone reading this please immediately follow Rishi Sunak on Linkedin and reply to his posts using #WeAreLtd at the end. Change your profile pic in solidarity. Contact me if you want the logo and explain your situation. Go to my original post and add a comment. The more the better.

Time will run out. Money will run out. We need help. Now. #WeAreLtd

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