The government’s emergency support package for self-employed workers has prompted concern among barristers, who fear the £50,000 ceiling will place some practitioners in ‘financial straits’.
The chancellor of the exchequer announced last night that self-employed workers who earn up to £50,000 a year can apply for a grant worth 80% of their average monthly profits. Those who make more than £50,000 are not eligible for a grant.
Rishi Sunak said 95% of self-employed people will benefit from the scheme and the money – up to £2,500 a month – will be paid in a single lump sum from June at the earliest.
The Criminal Bar Association criticised the emergency measures, claiming junior barristers will be hit by the £50,000 cap. A CBA spokesperson said: ‘Unfortunately, once again it is the middle ranks of the junior bar – those between three or four years call and up to 15 years call – who may bear the brunt of the sudden loss of income and the threshold above which you cannot be compensated. We are particularly concerned about this core part of criminal bar that keeps the criminal justice system functioning and needs to be able to return to work as and when the courts reopen.’
The CBA added: ‘The fact that criminal barristers often have to wait for a year or more for payment on cases which are completed from the Legal Aid Agency complicates the entire issue of what they can claim and places many in financial straits while they await payment and current work flow has dried up completely for many for the foreseeable future.’
The Bar Council has yet to publish a formal response to the government’s announcement. However, on Twitter it said it would raise the issue of the £50,000 ceiling with the Treasury and Ministry of Justice.
Yesterday, Amanda Pinto QC, chair of the Bar Council, stressed the importance of proper support for barristers. She said: ‘The entire self-employed bar, across all areas of practice, is working flat out to keep the justice system running during this unprecedented and uncertain time. The chancellor of the exchequer’s next financial package for the self-employed must match this level of commitment. Proper financial support is absolutely essential to ensure crucial stability for an already under-funded justice system.’
*The Law Society is keeping the coronavirus situation under review and monitoring the advice it receives from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office and Public Health England.