URGENT action is needed to prevent thousands of freelancers from "falling through the gaps" in the support package offered to the self-employed, unions claim.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak followed up his promise to pay 80 per cent of the salaries of staff kept on by employers with a pledge to pay self-employed people a taxable grant worth 80 per cent of their average monthly profits over the last three years, up to £2500 per month.

But many freelancers, particularly in creative industries, are hired on Pay As You Earn (PAYE) contracts and aren't eligible for the support as they weren't employed on February 28.

Others who operate through their own limited company also do not qualify.

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Paul McManus, from the Glasgow office of Bectu, the union for staff, contract and freelance workers in the media and entertainment industries, said it is the "biggest issue" facing his members.

His union, which represents workers in film, TV and live events, ranging from stage technicians and camera operators to make-up artists and wardrobe people, has around 2000 members across Scotland, with about half of those working on PAYE contracts. It has been lobbied the UK Treasury for more support.

Mr McManus said, following a quiet period around Christmas and the start of the year, many workers were due to start on projects in early March.

This means they weren't employed at the February 28 cut-off date and therefore can't be re-hired by their last employer and furloughed under the government's job retention scheme.

"It's never a good time but this has happened at the worst possible time," Mr McManus said.

The situation has been compounded by the decision to cancel Edinburgh's August festivals, including the Fringe, due to the coronavirus outbreak.

"That's going to have a devastating effect," Mr McManus added. "It's lost income all round.

"The big question is how many of these places will survive. How many will be in a position to come back next year?"

Workers who have missed out on the government's support packages are trying to claim Universal Credit but nearly one million people have applied for the benefit in the last two weeks.

Mr McManus said: "We're getting calls from people who can't get through for Universal Credit, they've got mortgages and bills to pay."

A government spokesman has said a range of measures have been introduced to support workers, including an increase in the Universal Credit allowance and income tax deferrals.

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