The self-employed have extra worry when they are unable to work due to personal injury following an accident and it often brings home one of the perils of working for oneself. Those who are employed usually have the benefit of sick pay which kicks in when time off work is required due to injury. Of course, some employers are less generous than others and those who are unable to work for a prolonged period may find themselves facing employment problems which will need addressing promptly due to strict time limits. However, the self-employed often have no scheme to turn to as a financial back-up when tragedy strikes and so the inability to work usually has a more immediate impact than for an employee. I sometimes find that the self-employed who have families and children have invested in an insurance scheme which provides some financial security when they are unable to work due to ill-health. However, I come across this less with the single self-employed or those without children as they have either not considered the impact of not being able to work or have dismissed this as something they will be able to cope with should the worst happen.
When a self-employed client comes to me after an accident at work it is often after some deliberation as to whether they will be able to make a claim. They mistakenly believe that, as they do not have an employer and are responsible for their own health and safety, they must therefore always be responsible for any accident they have whilst working. Of course, in some circumstances this may be the case but the self employed are often working as contractors and have no control over their working conditions and often act under the control of a third party in the same way as an employee. This misconception can lead to the self-employed not approaching a solicitor to investigate a potential claim until their financial circumstances have reached dire straits. A solicitor can help try and remedy this situation sooner rather than later by requesting an interim payment (a proportion of the value of the claim to be paid before final settlement) if and when the defendant admits liability for the accident. The solicitor will explain to the defendant that an interim payment is needed to keep their client's head above water. As long as there is enough paperwork to support a client's calculation for how much earnings they have lost up to that point, a defendant will often be happy to pay for this loss (or a large proportion of it) early as they will save having to pay interest on this loss if they waited until the end of the claim.
It is this need for paperwork which sometimes causes a stumbling block for the self-employed. We don't live our daily lives expecting to have an accident which incapacitates us and therefore our houses are usually not in perfect order when we need them to be. I recently settled a long running claim for a self-employed painter and decorator. He had failed to submit his tax returns for the past few years due to a combination of seeing a sharp drop in earnings as a result of the recession and an intermediary short return to an employed position. My client had put off seeking advice from a solicitor following an accident as he did not want to face the consequences of failing to file tax returns. When his lack of income put his life under great strain he finally came to see me. The first thing we did was self-report to HMRC (my client came to an arrangement to pay a one off fine of £100 and to file all outstanding accounts). At the same time I wrote a letter of claim to the defendant (the main contractor of a building site). Liability was admitted straightaway. With the information my client was able to give me regarding past earnings (this included all accounts which had been filed in the past 10 year period and invoices/job sheets for the then missing years) I was able to roughly calculate my client's average annual salary and request an interim payment from the defendant. This enabled my client to live and take some of the financial pressure off until he was well enough to secure alternative employment which in this case happened before final settlement of the claim.
Of course, not all self-employed claimants will be so lucky. The defendant may fight liability thereby making the prospect of an interim payment impossible. Or the defendant may concede liability but refuse an interim payment when there is irregularity in the paperwork. This would either force a claimant to issue proceedings when they may not be ready to try and get the court to order an interim payment (which may or may not be successful) or force the claimant to wait until the end of the claim to receive any money. By this time, if the absence from work has been for a substantial period, a client may have been put under such financial pressure that he has suffered hardships as losing his house or suffering deterioration in relationships with friends and family.
The sooner the self-employed approach a solicitor about a potential claim, the sooner a solicitor can try and help limit the catastrophic effect strained finances can have on a person's life. The idea of receiving compensation for an accident for which the defendant is responsible is to try and put the claimant back in the same position (as far as possible) that they would have been in had the accident not happened. The sooner a claim is made, the sooner this can happen. I would therefore urge the self-employed who have suffered injury to contact a solicitor sooner rather than later irrespective of the state of your paperwork. A solicitor may be able to help you to get your finances back on track no matter how bad it may seem to you during such a bleak time.