Law Society President Michele O’Boyle said on Saturday: “This is an extraordinary time, and these measures require an extraordinary sacrifice.
“I know that you will continue to play your part in this unprecedented national effort to contain the spread of Covid-19, and I am committed to doing what I can to support you.
Since the Government announcement was initially silent in relation to vital legal services, on Saturday the Law Society made representations at the highest level of Government that 'legal services' are essential to access to justice and the rule of law and, as such, should be designated 'essential services'.
Solicitors required to travel to deliver legal services should carry identification in case they are stopped by a member of An Garda Síochána.
Covid-19 financial supports
Only limited supports have been organised for self-employed people. As a result, self-employed solicitors who apply for financial assistance may find that they are not eligible under rules that currently exist.
Self-employed people can apply for financial support from the Exchequer primarily through one initiative – the Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment.
Self-employed people are not covered by other Covid-19 initiatives such as the Wage Subsidy Scheme.
The Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment involves a new social welfare payment of €350 per week – to be paid for up to 12 weeks. To qualify for this payment, a person must:
- Be aged between 18 and 66,
- Live in the Republic of Ireland,
- Have been in employment or self-employment immediately before Friday, 13 March 2020,
- Have lost his/her job, be temporarily laid off from work, or asked to stay at home from work due to the pandemic, and
- Stopped trading as self-employed due to the pandemic.
The final requirement above will rule out solicitors who experience a significant drop in income within their legal practice but who want to continue practising law.
There is also a further stipulation that you cannot claim the Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment if you are continuing to receive income from your employment.
It may be possible for self-employed people to apply for Short Time Work Support if they are working three days or less each week.
This is a form of Jobseeker’s Benefit and it stands apart from initiatives that have been established in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme update
On Friday, 27 March, President Michael D. Higgins signed the Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (Covid-19) Act 2020 into law.
The Act includes provision for a Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme, which was the subject of an urgent submission from the Law Society Employment & Equality Law Committee.
Since making that submission, further guidance has been published by Revenue, which has clarified the situation somewhat.
“Whilst guidance is not the same as legislation, and the wording of the legislation remains unchanged, we would hope that the courts will regard the guidance as an interpretation of the Act, particularly in light of the current emergency situation,” Law Society President Michele O’Boyle said.
It has been confirmed that applying for the Scheme is not a declaration of insolvency.
Eligibility remains linked to 'turnover' and 'customer orders', but guidance has been given as to determining reduction in turnover and profits.
The names of those availing of the Scheme will still be published on the Revenue website.
Given the serious sanctions that may be imposed upon an employer who is later deemed to have been ineligible, members are advised to consider the eligibility criteria carefully, engaging with their accountants and Revenue.