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Sole trader confidence hits new low

12 November 2019

Research conducted by the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) has found that optimism among the UK's self-employed workers is in negative territory for fifth straight quarter.

The latest FSB Q3 Small Business Index (SBI) has found that the confidence measure for self-employed respondents stands at -7.5. It means that confidence among sole traders has now been in negative territory for five consecutive quarters.

The findings also show that sole trader revenue growth has fallen behind the wider small business community. Around a third (35%) of sole traders said revenues were up in Q3, while four in ten (40%) said they were down. Across the whole of the 1,200 small businesses surveyed for the study, the figures stand at 38% and 35% respectively.

Well over half (62%) of sole traders polled do not expect their performance to improve over the coming three months, with more than one in ten (12%) expecting their performance to be "much worse".

The latest SBI also shows sole traders continuing to struggle disproportionately when it comes to accessing external finance. Just 7% of self-employed respondents applied for credit in Q3, compared to 13% across the small business community as a whole. And, while just under six in ten (59%) sole trader applications for finance were approved, seven in ten (70%) were successful across all respondents.

Close to two-thirds (65%) of successful self-employed finance applicants were offered a borrowing rate of 6% or more, but this was the case for fewer than half (49%) of all successful small business applicants surveyed.

The FSB is calling on all political parties to put the self-employed community front and centre when drawing up business policies for their election manifestos. It is calling on political parties to commit to:

  • Delay changes to IR35 off-payroll tax rules set to take effect in April 2020;
  • Rule out tax rises for the self-employed and freezing fuel duty, the Insurance Premium Tax, and the threshold at which sole traders must register for Value Added Tax (VAT);
  • Bring the maternity allowance for self-employed mothers in line with statutory maternity pay and introducing paternity and adoption allowances for sole traders;
  • End a £2.5 billion late payment crisis which disproportionately impacts micro-businesses;
  • Overhaul the outdated business rates system, starting with a significant uprating of the £12,000 rateable value ceiling for small business rates relief.

FSB national chairman Mike Cherry said: "Our 4.9 million-strong self-employed community has suffered massively as a result of three years of indecision and dithering in Westminster. This election is a chance for politicians to turn the tide, get back to domestic issues and support the sole traders that drive our economy forward.

"Against such an uncertain backdrop, the self-employed certainly don't need an IR35 rule change that makes hiring contractors less attractive. We've already heard noises from big corporates to indicate that - if this change does take effect in April as planned - they'll pull the plug on sole traders."

Written by Rachel Miller.

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