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Junior barristers blast the government’s ‘woefully insufficient’ self-employed support package

Junior barristers have heavily criticised the government’s self-employed support package as ‘woefully insufficient’ while imploring the Bar Council to address ‘urgent and serious concerns’ about the scheme.

The open letter, published today (30 March), says the government’s Self-Employed Income Support Scheme announced last Thursday neglects newly-qualified barristers as it does not provide financial aid to those without 2018/19 self-employed tax returns that accurately reflect their current earnings.

The letter – signed by more than 200 junior barristers – also stresses barristers who commenced their practice shortly before the end of the 2018/19 tax year will have filed returns with ‘zero or negligible’ earnings.

The government scheme announced by chancellor Rishi Sunak enables self-employed workers who earn up to £50,000 a year to apply for a grant worth 80% of their average monthly profits. However, the chancellor has since stated that little can be done for those without tax returns, with the scheme relying upon a database of people the government knows about.

The barristers’ letter adds that new entrants to the profession are particularly vulnerable because they earn the least, have the least savings and are the most reliant on attending hearings and tribunals as a source of income. Due to the covid-19 crisis, non-urgent hearings have been vacated for the foreseeable future.

They are now urging the Bar Council to pressure government to make changes. Proposals include allowing the newly self-employed to rely on their 2019/20 tax return, especially as the end of the current tax year is approaching and payments of the government scheme are not scheduled until June.

The letter continued: ‘Following the chancellor’s announcement that there is to be a four-week delay to allow the self-employed to file their tax returns for 2018/19, there is clearly sufficient time for our proposal to be implemented without delaying the scheme as a whole.’

The Bar Council did not respond to a request for comment on the letter specifically. However, in a statement on the chancellor’s announcement last week, Bar Council chair Amanda Pinto QC said: ‘We are working behind the scenes asking for greater support for the Bar. We have also been analysing the practical impact of the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s measures (as announced last night) for the self-employed, especially those at the very junior end and those at the publicly funded Bar.’

Should the government not adopt the measures outlined by the junior barristers, the group are urging the Bar Council to ‘liaise with the inns of Court to help provide alternative support.’