Extending the self-employment scheme, business rate relief and postponement of the economic crime levy are all on the Law Society's wishlist as it continues to lobby government for extra support to keep solicitors in business during the Covid-19 crisis.
Chancery Lane, which is in ‘daily contact’ with government departments, has told chancellor Rishi Sunak that the various loan schemes available are not enough for solicitors. Law firms are reluctant to take on further liabilities when the future is so uncertain, it stressed.
About 3,600 solicitors who are self-employed (registered as a sole practitioner or an authorised firm with one solicitor ‘owner’) pay themselves through profits/drawings, and therefore fall outside the scope of the self-employment scheme. Chancery Lane has asked government to consider extending the scheme, which will pay a cash grant worth 80% of average monthly trading profit over the past three years capped at £2,500.
Launching the scheme last month, however, Sunak said it was ’reasonable, proportionate and fair’ to exclude those with taxable profits above £50,000, including law firm partners. The chancellor said this group had average incomes of about £200,000.
The Society also points out that pubs and other high street businesses are getting state support if they are unable to trade. However businesses that have only seen a slump in work – including law firms – are unable to obtain this assistance. Chancery Lane is therefore seeking 50% business rate relief for firms if they have to shut their doors.
Chancery Lane is also seeking deferral of a forthcoming consultation on the economic crime levy set to be imposed on law firms to combat money laundering. ‘Given the financial hardship being faced by law firms across the country and the strong focus of both the profession and the Society in tackling the Covid crisis, now is not the time to consult on this initiative or go ahead with these plans,’ the Society said.
President Simon Davis commented: ’Since the reality of the Covid outbreak became clear, the Law Society has been tireless in its engagement at all levels of government as it seeks to ensure that the wheels of justice continue to turn. We are very concerned about the impact of the current situation on firms – large and small – and on sole practitioners. Those who are keeping the system of justice afloat need their mental, physical and financial health to be looked after if they are to be able to keep going.’
*The Law Society is keeping the coronavirus situation under review and monitoring the advice it receives from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office and Public Health England.