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Christian workers: Finances in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic

 

 

What we are seeing

Massive changes are happening in all areas of life in the UK and the rest of the world as a result of the coronavirus. One aspect of this is (for some sectors of society) unemployment and reduced demand for services causing wide and significant financial problems.

Stewardship is very aware that Christian workers can be working in isolation and may be financially impacted at a time when household incomes are at best highly uncertain, and at worst, being dramatically reduced. We are already seeing cuts to people’s charitable giving as their own income comes under strain.

Our practical message to Christian workers at this time is, firstly, to look at the relationship the Apostle Paul had with the Macedonian/Philippian churches and, secondly, see what support there is from Government and potentially others.

 


 

Partnership in the gospel

A key idea for those who do well in self-supported ministry is that of partnership: a relationship where supporters are seen as partners in the ministry and not just as ‘backers’ or ‘bankers’. Paul and his team tell the Thessalonians that they were ‘delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well’ (1 Thessalonians 2:8). In the first chapter of Philippians, Paul tells the church that he always ‘prays with joy’ because of their ‘partnership in the gospel from the first day until now’ (Philippians 1:4-5) and commends them for their love and affection.

There is an opportunity at the moment not just to talk about ‘the work’ but also to talk about yourself as ‘the worker’. Remember, your supporters are supporting you not just because of what you do but because of who you are; they care for you. Don’t think that just because others will be in need, that you can’t express your own need as well – at Stewardship, we regularly see those who want to give despite their own need; it is part of the generous spirit within them.

As Paul said about the Macedonian churches, ‘In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability’ (2 Corinthians 8:2-3). The deepest generosity is often offered in weakness but with the knowledge of God’s call to share what we have.

 


 

Wider financial support

The UK Government has announced some schemes that support both employed and self-employed workers.

If your ministry income is defined as ‘self-employed’ income and you completed a self-assessment tax return for 2018/19, then you may be able to receive a one-off grant from HMRC for up to £2,500 per month for 3 months. This is known as “SEISS”.

The general Government guidance can be found here. 

Our comments on the scheme and how it impacts Christian workers, especially those receiving self-support income, is outlined in Appendix A (below).

If you receive your income as an employee of a mission agency or church under the PAYE scheme there is less scope to continue working but receive financial support. In large part the position depends upon the church or agency with whom you are working and which is paying you. We suggest you talk to them, as it may be possible for them to receive government support for up to 80% of your income if you become a ‘furloughed worker’, although the general statement is that this means you cannot work for the organisation. The guidance is not detailed in what you can and can’t do in a voluntary capacity, but our own perspective is that you essentially cannot continue doing what you were being paid to do.

The Government scheme is outlined here.

We are also seeing many churches setting up ‘COVID-19’ related financial support schemes so that churches can help those in their communities. Speak to the church you are linked with both about how you can help and pray but also, if needed, whether there is support that they are providing to those who are financially impacted by the virus.

 


You are not alone! We are here to help you. If you are concerned about your ministry finances at this time, please contact us.

We pray that you will know the grace, peace and faithfulness of God during these coming days. He is the giver of all things; all those resources he knows we need; our daily bread. We pray that you will experience the love, support and encouragement of those who support you in ministry, and that you too will continue to be a blessing to others through your service to his Kingdom.

 

 

APPENDIX A: GOVERNMENT SUPPORT FOR THE SELF-EMPLOYED (“SEISS”)

 

1. Eligibility

 

Use this scheme if you're self-employed or a member of a partnership and have lost income due to COVID-19. You can apply if you’re a self-employed individual or a member of a partnership and you:

  • Have submitted your Income Tax Self-Assessment tax return for the tax year 2018-19
  • Traded in the tax year 2019-20
  • Are trading when you apply, or would be except for COVID-19
  • Intend to continue to trade in the tax year 2020-21
  • Have lost trading/partnership trading profits due to COVID-19

Stewardship comment: Whilst the Government has the above 5 points of eligibility, it has also indicated that ‘SEISS is open to everyone, with 95% of the ‘majority’ self-employed benefitting’.

  • If you are in ongoing ministry and not paid through the PAYE scheme, then it would appear that the scheme is open to you and there is no indication as yet that the Government will want you to prove how much you have lost because of COVID-19.
  • However, if you are being paid under the PAYE scheme you will be treated as an employee and this scheme is not available; the Government support is for the ‘employing’ mission organisation.
  • Also, if you have indicated that you ceased your ministry, then you also are not expected to be eligible.

 


 

2. Individuals are required to have:

 

  • A 2019 tax return;
  • The ‘majority’ of their income from self-employed work; and
  • Trading profits of less than £50,000 per annum

Stewardship comment:

  • If as a missionary/Christian worker you have been preparing tax returns and filed one for the 2018/19 tax year AND you meet the other two criteria, then you should be eligible for this scheme. If you did not file a tax return, it is unlikely you will be eligible.
  • ‘Trading profits’ are expected to mean the taxable income figure shown on your tax return, having made adjustment for non-tax allowable expenditure but allowing for ‘capital allowances’ that you may have claimed for capital expenditure.

 

 3. On the income threshold, the Government website says ‘at least one of the following conditions being true’:

 

  • Having trading profits/partnership trading profits in 2018-19 of less than £50,000 and these profits constitute more than half of your total taxable income;
  • Having average trading profits in 2016-17, 2017-18, and 2018-19 of less than £50,000 and these profits constitute more than half of your average taxable income in the same period.

Stewardship comment: This allows for people to claim if either 2018/19 was a particular good year in terms of income OR a worse year than previously.

 


 

 4. The Government will pay self-employed individuals a taxable grant of:

 

  • Up to 80% of the individual’s average monthly trading profit
  • Based on average profits over the last three years (2016/17, 2017/18 and 2018/19)
  • Up to £2,500 per month
  • For 3 months

To work out the average, HMRC will add together the total trading profit for the three tax years (where applicable) then divide by three (where applicable), and use this to calculate a monthly amount.

Stewardship comment: If the individual does not have self-employed income as far back as 2016/17 then we understand that the average will only apply to the one or two years when a tax return was filed.

 


 

5. You cannot apply for this scheme yet.

 

  • HMRC will contact you if you are eligible for the scheme and invite you to apply online.undertaken to introduce the scheme.

 

 6. For Income Tax Self-Assessment, payments due on the 31 July 2020 may be deferred until 31 January 2021.

 

  • You are eligible if you are due to pay your second self-assessment payment on account on 31 July.
  • This is an automatic offer with no applications required.
  • No penalties or interest for late payment will be charged if you defer payment until January 2021.

If you’re in temporary financial distress because of COVID-19, more help is available from HMRC’s Time to Pay scheme.

Stewardship comment: That appears self-explanatory, although it is noted that the Government site says: ‘The deferment is optional. If you are still able to pay your second payment on account on 31 July you should do so’ – although the lack of interest or penalties if you do defer suggests that there is not a downside to deferring that can be seen at present.