Homeworking companies have broadly welcomed government measures to support self-employed agents affected by coronavirus, but warned many will still lose out.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced new measures on Thursday that will see self-employed people eligible to apply for a taxable grant worth 80% of average profits, capped at £2,500 per month.
It is available for an initial three-month period, with grants paid out by June 1.
The scheme is open to those with a trading profit of less than £50,000. Those who have become self-employed since April 2019 will not receive any help under this scheme.
Amanda Matthews, managing director of Designer Travel, which has 90 homeworking agents, said: “The majority of our homeworkers will get some help from the government, which is brilliant, but it’s a tale of two halves.
“Where I think it is wrong, is that if someone was earning (£50,000) on PAYE [Pay As You Earn] they would get government support [of up to £2,500] if they were furloughed,” she said.
“These homeworkers are working harder than ever to deal with their customers’ refunds, and not getting paid for it – in fact they are losing money.”
She stressed that those earning £50,000 or over were not “not super wealthy people for whom missing a few months’ pay is no big deal”.
Matthews said 10 of her 90 homeworkers joined recently having been made redundant following the collapse of Thomas Cook, and will therefore not be eligible for government help.
“Across the industry there will be hundreds of people in this position,” she said. “That’s a real concern. Most of these people have been doing really well and now they’ll get no support. Those who used to work for Thomas Cook or were Freedom [Travel Group] members had just started to get back on their feet and they’ve been hit with this.”
Steve Witt, co-founder of homeworking group Not Just Travel, said the government support was a “lifeline” to franchisees but warned that waiting for payments until June could be “agonising”.
“The finer details are yet to be released and I hope that any cracks in the legislation will be addressed as they become apparent,” he said. “On first glance I think many of our homeworkers should be eligible for the grant and we will be giving them all the support and guidance on how to do that.
“I fear that with three months to wait until they will actually be paid will be a long and agonising time for them. Many were banking on commissions for holiday bookings that are now either deferred, cancelled or are hanging in the balance.
“We are doing all we can to ensure issues are resolved and payments are made as swiftly as possible – but this is unchartered territory for all of us and we are working tirelessly to make sense of it all.
“Many of our consultants are working with us stagger commission payments where possible and we are working closely to come to a solution.”
Travel Counsellors, which supports 1,300 independent, self-employed travel agents, welcomed the measures, saying they will help retain talent in the industry.
Chief executive Steve Byrne said: “We’ll need further time to look at the detail, but these measures, coupled with the wide-ranging support we are providing to our business owners, will offer welcome relief to many.
Byrne added: “As well as self-employed business owners, our platform supports people with limited companies and many who employ assistance, so we’re now also focussed on helping those business owners to explore the opportunities provided by the government’s announcements over the last week.
“The measures announced so far will go some way to help retain talent within the travel industry, as there has never been a time when customers have valued the care and support of experienced, professional and trusted travel experts more than this.”