Many homeworking agents are having to rely on loans or second jobs because they still don’t qualify for government lockdown grants.
On Tuesday, chancellor Rishi Sunak announced £4 billion in lockdown grants for retail, hospitality and leisure businesses, enabling agencies with rateable properties to claim one-off payments worth up to £9,000.
However, home-based agents do not qualify for the grants and many also slip through the net with support for the self-employed as they have not been trading for long enough.
Samantha Gibbs, head of franchise at GoCruise & Travel, said: “There is a small amount of support for travel shops, as they come under retail, but what about those homeworking businesses? They have been left behind.”
Travel Counsellor Sarah Bolton tweeted: “And yet again those small businesses without rateable properties, such as mine, are not getting any help. Just told to get further into debt by taking out loans.”
Steve Witt, co-founder of Not Just Travel, urged homeworkers to take out loans “to get through this part of the drought because there is a big fountain of water at the end”.
“People are not travelling but summer 2021 and 2022 are potentially bumper years in travel so you can pay back what you have borrowed if you are sensible,” he said.
He pointed to the government-backed Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS) and Bounce Back Loan Scheme (BBLS), as well as the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS) for those who traded in 2018 and 2019.
“It is a trade-off between risk and reward – you can really cash in when it all comes back,” said Witt. “We are quite optimistic and see light at the end of the tunnel. This will be a big year.”
He said Not Just Travel has been helping some homeworkers develop a second income by taking call centre calls for other sectors.
Gibbs said some GoCruise & Travel franchisees received grants but many others have not been self-employed for long enough for SEISS grants.
Others are registered as limited companies and receive nothing – and cannot furlough themselves as they need to deal with cancellations and rebookings.
“Months have gone by where they have had to repay back commission and received no income,” she said.
“All of our franchisees have the option of a Bounce Back Loan and some have taken it, but the fear is that it needs to be paid back.
“Some have it sat in an account, just in case, and others have used it to keep afloat or even pay their current tax bills.
“We have a handful of franchisees that have recently been able to get support from their local councils with the ARG Grant (Additional Restrictions Grant) which has been helpful as it’s not needed to be paid back. This is led by individual councils; some have been approved and some declined.”
She said some now have part-time jobs, such as supermarket delivery drivers, while others have been working in restaurants and bars which are now closed because of lockdown.
Travel Counsellors’ chief executive Steve Byrne said: “While we recognise the measures that government has taken, we will continue to lobby for further complementary measures to support the livelihoods of people working in the industries that have been the hardest hit – those who work in travel and in particular those who have taken the opportunity to back themselves as a self-employed, small business owner.
“We’ve recognised the gap in government support for some self-employed business owners for some time,” he added, noting Travel Counsellors’ launch of its TC Wellbeing Fund for both business-owning Travel Counsellors and the firm’s staff last spring
Campaign group ExcludedUK estimates three million taxpayers in the UK have been unable to claim government grants.