Covid finance injustice is costing the lives of desperate people, a Banbury business woman says

A Banbury woman has accused MP Victoria Prentis of being 'fobbed off' about lack of financial help for business owners.
Audra Humphrey outside her beauty therapy business near AdderburyAudra Humphrey outside her beauty therapy business near Adderbury
Audra Humphrey outside her beauty therapy business near Adderbury

Beauty therapist Audra Humphrey, who runs Aesthetica at Adderbury, said she and thousands of other sole-directors are being denied Covid finance while other self-employed people are enjoying handouts and continuing to work.

Mrs Humphrey asked the Banbury Guardian to highlight an anomaly that is causing desperate business owners to take their own lives.

A former breast cancer patient, she said: "Funds would have helped as I find myself, against my oncologist's advice, applying for carer vacancies in order to pay my bills.

Banbury MP Victoria Prentis who continues to discuss the Covid financial aid situation with ministerial colleaguesBanbury MP Victoria Prentis who continues to discuss the Covid financial aid situation with ministerial colleagues
Banbury MP Victoria Prentis who continues to discuss the Covid financial aid situation with ministerial colleagues

"I believe my business will survive but it is for the many other victims of exclusion that I continue to voice my anger at the party I once truly believed in."

A member of action group ExcludedUK she said sole-directors, freelancers and contract workers are getting no support. And she said Mrs Prentis declares she cannot intervene in debates or lobby for a change because she is a Minister.

Mrs Prentis says she is sympathetic to Mrs Humphrey's situation and will continue to raise her concerns with ministerial colleagues.

"The public don't understand that not everyone is being helped equally," Mrs Humphrey said.

"A self-employed business owner can claim finance based on their last three years' tax. This allowance is capped at £2,500 a month and they can continue to work as normal or be busier than ever and still receive the money. If you're a sole-director, newly or partly self-employed or a contract worker there is no help at all."

Mrs Humphrey said she has even been refused a self isolation payment. "The level of support has glaring omissions and even more glaringly bad choices of funding to those that don't need it.

"I have seen evidence of self employed individuals working as usual and using their grant to buy a motor-home to reduce their tax bill. I know of a builder inundated with work who now chooses to furlough his staff unnecessarily so he can take a month off.

"Many of the big corporations have affirmed the inadequacy of this system by returning millions of pounds of misguided funding. Yet still we are ignored," she said.

Mrs Humphrey has received a small Cherwell District Council grant for premises use, not to supplement lost income.

"HMRC says we are not self-employed for pandemic support but for anything else, self-assessment or tax returns, they do consider us as self-employed," she said. "All I can do is to take a loan. I've been in business for 30 years without debt and I don't want to be now.

"Loads of businesses are folding. Some of the messages on the ExcludedUK Facebook page are harrowing. People are using foodbanks, losing their homes, some are committing suicide. It's truly harrowing."

Mrs Humphrey said the Treasury response is 'rubbish'. "Victoria Prentis is being treated with the same contempt as we are. We're all being fobbed off by Rishi Sunak," she said.

"He says there is always Universal Credit to fall back on but if you have savings you don't qualify. If you have saved for your tax bill it is considered savings.

"Also if sole-directors were to have parity, allowances would be capped, so even if we did have investment income, which Rishi is trying to suggest, it's still irrelevant. If they trust our tax returns they should trust the same information to support us."

In a statement Victoria Prentis said: “Audra and I have shared a number of email exchanges since last March. I have a lot of sympathy for the position she finds herself in. She is not alone.

"The ExcludedUK group has been vocal in its campaign and made it very clear to the Government that Limited Company Directors should be eligible for more support. As I have explained to Audra, I have taken up her concerns with Ministers through the official correspondence channels and during informal conversations with my Treasury colleagues.

“The Government has put in place £280 billion of support for businesses in grants, loans and relief. People can check what they are eligible for via the website. I know the district council is also doing what it can to support all our local businesses, as is the Oxfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership (OxLEP). I will continue to discuss Audra’s concerns with her directly and raise them at the appropriate opportunity with Ministers. I know the situation is kept under close review.

“The past year has been difficult for us all. Anyone struggling should get in touch with me via [email protected]. My team and I have been working around the clock to ensure all constituents have the necessary information and support during these unprecedented circumstances.”

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