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Creating a freelancer playbook for Covid-19: Practical tips

Updated: Mar 29, 2020

LIVE DISCUSSION: Wednesday 25 March 2020

On Wednesday 25th March, in lieu of a physical meetup - 70 Soho Media Club members tuned in at 16.00 for a live zoom chat.


  • Tony Lennon, Research and Freelance Officer, Bectu

  • Tom Guida, Partner, Clintons

  • Neal Romanek, Editor, FEED

  • Nia Hughes, Organising Official, Bectu

  • Sara Putt, Owner Sara Putt Associates and Trustee of The Film and TV Charity

Hosted by:

  • Muki Kulhan, CEO, Muki International

It goes without saying that the theme of our discussion was the global pandemic which, in one way or another, has had a major impact on all of our lives.

Our super panelists came together to give freelancers guidance through this period of uncertainty, particularly if the production you work on has been postponed or cancelled.

Whilst we all are anxious about the future and have financial concerns, it’s important to keep our spirits up and be positive - mentally, physically and emotionally. The grey skies will move away and we will all get out of this.

So what did our panellists say?

Listen to the podcast at to hear the lively discussion, but in the meantime, here is a summary of practical advice:

Sara Putt, Owner Sara Putt Associates and Trustee of The Film and TV Charity

A COVID-19 Relief Fund has been set up between the BFI and the UK Film and TV Charity.

£1 million has been donated from Netflix, the BFI have put in £500,000 and The Film and TV Charity has used reserves of £440,000. So there is a fund of approx £2,000,000.

It will be a Relief Fund for those working in production, distribution and exhibition. There is already financial support of up to £500 in place for anybody who has two years professional experience in the industry and has a case that needs dealing with urgently, then there will be the much bigger pot that the charity will be working on in early April.

Alternatively, pick up the phone if you are feeling stressed or anxious (Support Line 0800 054 0000) or do a live chat (, as the charity can help in various ways from counseling sessions, legal advice, financial and debt advice and through to the more complicated cases where you will be allocated a caseworker.

UPDATE: 28 March 2020

The BBC has donated £700,000 to support The Film and TV Charity. £500,000 will go towards the new Film and TV COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund and £200,000 will go into the charity’s two-year mental health action plan, known as the Whole Picture Programme, to address the widespread issues found in research released by the charity earlier this year.

Tony Lennon, Research and Freelance Officer, Bectu

The good news I35 is on hold

Those who paid their self assessment tax bill in January, at the moment don't look like they're going to get any of it back, but the payments on account that most people are used to doing at the end of July is now going to be deferred until January. HMRC aren't really saying much about it, but they won't be coming after you.


If you have a standing direct debit to HMRC - Cancel your direct debit immediately

Theoretically, lots of freelancers have never applied for benefits before BUT go for it and apply for Universal credit online - do it without shame:

Tom Guida, Partner, Clintons

3 key contract terms demystified:

Force majeure

If something beyond our control prevents us from doing what we are obligated to do, then we don't have to do it. If you are the person saying, ‘I don't owe you anything because of force majeure’, just double check that because if you get it wrong then you’ve breached the contract. Similarly, if you're the person who is obligated to pay for those services and someone has provided services, do you still have to pay them? And the answer is, if you have the money, then the fact that there is a big pandemic doesn't stop you from paying them money. So forced majeure isn't an automatic out.


Frustration is when no one can do what they're supposed to do because the fundamental underlying thing just isn't happening, so if I meant to show up and provide services on location, and that location is not accessible because the government said you can't leave your house, then I can’t provide services and therefore you don't have to pay me and so it's more of a mutual sort of thing. It's generally when nobody's at fault. But again, you want to be thinking about that.

Repudiatory breach

When you just say you know what because of X, I'm not going to do what I said I would do and that goes back to are you really prevented from doing it so?

All of these are very complicated. You could be hearing them from vendors or from clients, but consult your local lawyer. There are plenty of legal aid services around and there's volunteer lawyers for the arts, but you've got to do that.

If you are doing a freelance job, even if it is a one day job, get it in writing - even an email counts as a contract.


If you postpone your shoot versus canceling it - you wouldn’t have had any sort of exception for pandemics (which is a good thing) SO, if you postpone it, then you have still got the original policy. If you cancel your policy and redo it, all the insurance policies now have a pandemic exclusion. So you have to be really careful about that.

Secondly, if you have a claim, you have to do it immediately. Every single policy says you must notify as promptly as you can and when times are good people let promptly mean lots of different things. But now it means immediate or it’s not valid, so please give notice as quickly as you can.


There's a lot of really great creativity happening right now. People are having virtual writing rooms and brainstorming sessions etc, the advice is to get the ground rules set up front. If you're going to be working in a group, just establish the ground rules up front and everything we come up with, we're going to own together and put it in writing. So it's just a little bit of precaution you can take.

Neal Romanek, Editor, FEED

It's going to be a very different economy and a very different world even if we pull out of this really quickly, and that's not something to freak out about and to be frightened of. It's just something to notice and see as an opportunity.

As freelancers, we have to be agile and think one step ahead and see opportunities. It's going to be a forward movement, into something new and just be ready for that. And it's a chance to think creatively to try new stuff.

Nia Hughes, Organising Official, Bectu

Bectu have been working at various levels all the way from lobbying the government, to supporting members on a daily basis - including:

  • Working with productions over the last 10 days to secure extended hiatus periods and notice periods where possible

  • Working closely with productions in terms of waiting on the government announcement for 80% loans offered to employees to be extended to freelance PAYE crew and next steps, including working with productions to ensure all of those crew members who were on PAY are going to be reinstated

  • Encouraging productions to align what they're offering to weekly crew to be extended to daily crew.

  • In terms of other stakeholders, Bectu has been on the BFI industry task force, on the BFC business advisory group, as well as the GLA COVID-19 Round Table

Call membership department to discuss BECTU subs if you need help with your membership

UPDATE 28 March 2020:

The Self-employment Income Support Scheme will allow you to claim a taxable grant worth 80% of your trading profits up to a maximum of £2,500 per month for the next 3 months. This may be extended if needed.

UPDATE 28 March 2020:

Are you a PAYE Freelancer and not covered financially by the new governments schemes? Bectu need you to fill out this form asap:

BECTU is looking for some case studies of people who work on a series of "Short fixed term contracts that are paid as PAYE" to use in evidence when lobbying government about the application of the Self Employed Income Support Fund (SEISF).

This information is needed before a submission to HM Treasury on Monday 30 March, so an urgent reply would be most helpful.

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