Over 200 junior barristers have signed a letter to the Bar Council and its vice-chair Amanda Pinto QC, asking it to respond to the self-employed income support scheme announced by the UK Government last week.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer announced on Thursday that self-employed people will be supported with 80 per cent of their income if they can show proof of three years worth of tax returns.
The scheme will support those whose income is below £50,000 per year, providing financial support of up to £2,500 per month.
However, junior barristers are in uproar as many will not be eligible for the support. Newly-qualified members of the Bar will not have filed a tax return for the last financial year, or be able to show they are self-employed.
Any tax returns filed will either show zero earnings. This is because a pupil does not start earning until the second half of the pupillage. The effect on the most junior barristers will be profound, with a drop in earnings due to the lack of hearings.
Speaking to The Lawyer, one junior barrister said his cohort is reliant on court hearings to generate revenue.
Matthew Turner of Crown Office Chambers, added: “This comes at a time when the newest members of the Bar are under financial pressure from expensive start-up costs such as chambers rent, insurance, books and laptop purchases. And we have to wait an average of three months between doing the work and getting paid – and it can be much longer, even over a year.
“It sucks. It is so unfair to punish us when we are the most precarious earners at the Bar. We have the lowest earnings, least savings and most debt.
“We don’t have established relationships with firms of solicitors. It feels like we are being screwed, like many other newly self-employed people across a number of different jobs.”
The letter also outlines the impact the Government’s scheme will have on women, non-white barristers, those from a disadvantaged background and those on maternity leave.
The letter states that female, BAME and barristers from the disadvantaged socioeconomic background are over-represented in the lower earnings areas of practice, while barristers who will take or have taken a period of maternity leave will see a reduction in this period and may be wrongly illegible for the scheme.
The Bar Council tweeted last week that it would raise the issue of the £50,000 threshold with the Government, however, one junior barrister criticised it for failing to address the “more urgent” issues facing the most junior barristers.
The group of barristers believe that new self-employed barristers should be able to rely on 2019/20 tax returns, which are due next month. They are calling for the Bar Council to raise this issue with the Government.
The Bar Council and Pinto said: “The Bar Council team and I continue to raise your concerns and issues with the Government and with the senior judiciary in all divisions and practice areas. We are also in very regular contact with the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) and other Government departments.
“We are working behind the scenes asking for greater support for the Bar. We have also been analysing the practical impact of the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s measures (as announced last night) for the self-employed, especially those at the very junior end and those at the publicly funded Bar.”