Thousands of self-employed mothers miss out on Covid-19 SEISS payments

Self-employed mothers who have recently been on maternity leave are taking the chancellor to court for discrimination.

Tens of thousands of self-employed mothers who have recently had children have lost out on Self-Employed Income Support Scheme (SEISS) payments.

The payments come in instalments based on a self-employed person‘s average profits between 2016 and 2019.

An estimated 75,000 self-employed women took maternity leave during that period, meaning that they may not have been paid what they would have otherwise.

On Thursday (January 21), charity Pregnant Then Screwed will be bringing a judicial review for indirect discrimination. They want the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, to take maternity leave into account when making SEISS payments.

When asked why pay-outs for self-employed mothers was lower, the chancellor said ‘for all sorts of reasons people have ups and down and variations in their earnings, whether through maternity, ill health or others’. Pregnant Then Screwed wrote a pre-action protocol letter to the chancellor and his legal team ‘correlated maternity leave with a sabbatical’, according to the charity.

Joeli Brearley, CEO and founder of Pregnant Then Screwed explains: “The government has had nine months to amend this scheme so that it doesn’t discriminate against women; but they have chosen not to.

“We’ve had heart-breaking messages from so many women. For some this drop in income has left them and their young family in desperate poverty; while their male colleagues are in receipt of the full benefit.

“For maternity leave to be dismissed as the same as being sick or taking a sabbatical is not only insulting, but it sends out a very dangerous message about how this government views mothers and the integral role we play in a well-functioning society. This court case is about defending women’s rights and showing the government that they cannot ride roughshod over the Equality Act.”

A Treasury spokesman said that the SEISS scheme is ‘one of the most generous in the world’.

“We understand the challenges for new parents who are self-employed – and even if a new parent did not submit their tax-return for 2018-19, they may still be eligible and able to claim for a grant using their self-assessment returns from previous years.”

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Anna Jordan

Anna is Senior Reporter, covering topics affecting SMEs such as grant funding, managing employees and the day-to-day running of a business.

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