The government’s support package for the self-employed is ‘woefully insufficient’, newly-qualified barristers have said, urging the Bar Council to challenge the criteria imposed by the chancellor.

In an open letter to the chair of the Bar Council, over 100 junior barristers said the government scheme is ‘unjust’ for newly qualified members of the profession because it does not offer financial aid to those without 2018/19 self-employed tax returns that reflect current earnings.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced on Thursday that self-employed workers who earn up to £50,000 a year can apply for a grant worth 80% of their average monthly profits. However, Sunak told the BBC that ‘there is nothing we can do for people with no tax return… We have to use the database of people we know about.’

Junior barristers claimed the reliance on 2018/19 tax returns is ‘an unnecessary barrier to the equitable application of the scheme’ and disadvantages those who did not file a tax return for 2018/19; those who filed a tax return that contained negligible earnings owing to their practice starting shortly before the end of the tax year; and those who became self-employed in the 2018/19 tax year and now earn less than they did before. 

The letter proposed that the newly self-employed should be allowed to rely on their 2019/20 tax return, which can be filed from next month, and asked the Bar Council to confirm that the matter will be urgently raised with the government. 

The Bar Council has yet to issue a formal response to the chancellor’s announcement. However, it said it is ‘analysing the practical impact of the chancellor of the exchequer’s measures…for the self-employed, especially those at the very junior end and those at the publicly funded bar’.