Coronavirus: what is the govt doing to help SMEs, freelancers?

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“A lot of entrepreneurs find themselves in a […] dire situation”, said Prime Minister Mark Rutte, addressing the nation about the coronavirus pandemic on Monday evening.

In a sobering speech, the PM finally addressed growing concerns among the self-employed. He assured freelancers that the cabinet would do “whatever it takes” to provide support for those facing financial hardship.

Many businesses and even entire industries have shut down in the wake of the coronavirus spread. This has lead to panic and confusion among freelancers and entrepreneurs losing more and more business as the economy falters.

An online petition started on Sunday challenged Minister of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy Eric Wiebes’ view that freelance workers had “taken a conscious risk” in choosing to be self-employed. In Wiebes’ opinion, this meant the self-employed were not entitled to financial assistance. The petition had collected more than 172,000 signatures as of Monday.

Limburg-based healthcare entrepreneur Sabine Klykens offers a training course for freelancers in the healthcare sector that covers self-employment concerns such as taxes and documentation. She published an open letter on Facebook, describing the economic impact of the most recent prevention measures on self-employed healthcare workers. In the letter, she urged the PM to consider the predicament of individual freelancers, especially those with children.

“I’m a healthcare worker too. I spend 3 days a week working with children. I’ve lost all the work I had and I probably won’t get paid for the next few weeks”, Sabine told Eindhoven News on Tuesday, adding that she was “lucky” her training business could alleviate the burden.

The PM’s speech undoubtedly went some way towards alleviating the fears of more than one million self-employed workers across the country. Many among this group, however, still have questions. Exactly what support is available to them, and how can they access it?

Extended guarantee for SMEs (BMKB)

The extended BMKB (government-guaranteed loan scheme), which took effect on Monday, will immediately free up €300 million. This scheme should give entrepreneurs speedy access to bigger loans. The money can be used to bridge credit or pay off bank overdrafts. Applications for these loans go through accredited financiers, such as banks.

As of 16 March, the rules for the BMKB have been relaxed. That was done to maximise the amount of support available to entrepreneurs.

Assistance for the self-employed (Bbz)

The Bbz is a benefit paid out as a living allowance or a periodic interest-free loan for up to 12 months, with a possible extension to 14 months. The freelancer must work at least 1,225 hours per year (an average of 23.5 hours per week) in their self-employed capacity. Repayment depends on the viability of the business once the benefit stops.

Freelancers who decide to close a business that is no longer viable could also be eligible for additional support.

Tax deferral

The tax authorities are offering suspended payments for those in financial difficulties due to the crisis. Freelancers can apply in writing to suspend income tax, corporate tax, sales tax, and payroll tax payments.

Late tax payments over the coming months will not be subject to financial penalties.

Reduction in working hours

Entrepreneurs with employees, including those in the shuttered hospitality industry, can apply for a reduction in working hours. These business owners must be able to show a 20% reduction in work due to coronavirus for a minimum of two and a maximum of 24 employees.

What else?

Part of a €25 billion EU investment fund will be used to assist small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs). President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, said the new “Corona Response Investment Initiative” will be used to prop up parts of the economy most vulnerable to the economic impact of the crisis. These include national healthcare systems and SMEs.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) also said it was prepared to delve into its $1 trillion lending capacity to aid countries around the world. The Fund has already pledged approximately $200 billion in 40 ongoing agreements.

Self-employed professionals can also contact the Chamber of Commerce (KvK) Advisory Team on 0800 21 17.

More links to relevant information:

You can apply for the support and find more information per municipality. You can apply in the municipality where you live not where your business is registered.
Information is mostly in Dutch.

Another article on same subject you can find here.

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