The Government’s announcement of support for the self-employed is a lifeline for businesses, the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce has said.
Under the terms of Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s package, Northern Ireland’s 136,000 self-employed workers will be able to claim support worth 80% of their average earnings.
Mr Sunak said the help, worth up to a maximum of £2,500 a month, would cover 95% of people who work for themselves.
However, the scheme will not come into place until June, with self-employed workers advised to apply for Universal Credit in the meantime.
The package was announced after the Government was criticised for initially supporting only company employees.
Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce president Ian Henry said: “(This) offers a lifeline to the vast majority of self-employed people, many of whom have seen their livelihoods vanish overnight.
“I have heard from many sole traders and self-employed people throughout this week.
“The Northern Ireland Chamber, along with other business groups, has worked constructively with the Government to ensure the self-employed receive similar support to those who are employed through PAYE.
“We welcome the scale of this scheme and recognise the complexities involved in its design.
“It is now critical that the Government delivers this practical support as soon as possible.”
Economy Minister Diane Dodds and Finance Minister Conor Murphy also welcomed the package.
Mrs Dodds said: “This is a much-needed measure which we have been asking for on behalf tens of thousands of people in Northern Ireland.”
Mr Murphy added: “While this announcement is welcome, it is concerning that the workers won’t receive this until June.”
The support was also welcomed by the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB).
Spokesman Roger Pollen said the announcement would “give hope to many hard-working, self-employed entrepreneurs”.
“Over the last number of weeks, self-employed people have seen support introduced
for employee incomes and grants for some businesses but have felt left behind as they have seen their own incomes dry up,” Mr Pollen added.
“It is therefore welcome that the Chancellor has brought forward a package for self-employed people.
“The FSB has been at the sharp end of negotiations with the Government in recent days, arguing for this package to be as generous as possible.
“While what has been announced is not perfect and will not deliver for everyone, it does provide income for our most hard-pressed self-employed — taxi drivers, hairdressers, plumbers, electricians and many more — who will have seen their work disappear as people socially distance. This is an incredibly challenging situation for everyone. While the healthcare response is paramount overcoming the economic disruption also requires a rapid response in the interests of jobs and of future growth.
“It is important that the scheme is ready on time and delivered as soon as possible.
“As this will be delivered through the self-assessment system, it is vital that any late filers submit their 2018/19 return right now, or they could risk missing out.”
Mr Sunak said the Government would pay self-employed people a taxable grant worth 80% of their average monthly profits over the last three years, up to £2,500 a month.
However, people recently made self-employed will not be included in the scheme and must look for welfare support.
Secretary of State Brandon Lewis said: “The UK Government has been clear that we will stand side-by-side with the Northern Ireland Executive in doing whatever it takes to help individuals and businesses through the coronavirus crisis.”