A freelancer, freelance worker, consultant or independent contractor is usually self-employed and is not usually the exclusive employee of any single organisation.

Freelancers can sometimes be represented or managed by an agency. Freelancers may work as and when required, or may work on a project basis.

As with any self-employed individual, a freelancer typically has control over which projects they choose to work on and the hours they work, and usually provide their own work materials. Exceptions include HGV drivers, who may use vehicles supplied by the employing organisation.

Types of freelancer

The rise of the internet has contributed to a growth of freelancers in employment areas suitable for home working. Similarly the availability of low-cost or flat-rate telephone deals have contributed to freelance growth in areas such as telesales from home. Online freelance marketplaces have enabled freelancers to match themselves to business needs at a price-per-unit or hourly rate.

Some of the most common freelance jobs include:

  • Accountant
  • Actor
  • Author
  • Book-keeper
  • Camera operator
  • Computer programmer
  • Copywriter
  • Copy editor
  • Courier
  • Entertainer
  • Event planner
  • Gardener
  • Graphic designer
  • Hairdresser
  • Large goods vehicle (LGV) or heavy goods vehicle (HGV) driver
  • Lighting technician
  • Illustrator
  • Information technology professional
  • Journalist
  • Lawyer
  • Legal consultant
  • Marketing consultant
  • Musician
  • Photographer
  • Producer
  • Proofreader
  • Sales person
  • Sound engineer
  • Taxi driver
  • Translator
  • Tutor
  • Websites designer

Employment rights for freelancers

Freelancers may not be entitled to the same statutory employment rights as employees, such as National Minimum Wage. Statutory employment rights will depend on particular circumstances.

Freelancers are subject to the terms and conditions of their contract with their employing organisation. The contract may or may not include the same contractual employment rights as the organisation's non-freelance employees.

Many unions, such as the BECTU sector of Prospect, support freelancers, for instance by establishing suggested rates for different kinds of work.

Advantages of freelancing

Some of the key advantages of freelancing include:

  • Being your own boss
  • Flexibility to set own working hours
  • Freedom to follow personal interests as a career
  • Supplementing or replacing income from a main job e.g. while being a student, or following redundancy
  • Access to work areas which typically rely on freelancers e.g. journalism
  • Working from home
  • Diversity of clients
  • Retention of copyright over created works

Freelancers who work from home may experience some of the same advantages as home workers.

Disadvantages of freelancing

Some of the key disadvantages of freelancing include:

  • Lack of job security and difficulty maintaining turnover of work
  • Difficulty planning finances e.g. clients/customers not paying on time
  • Fewer employment benefits e.g. workplace pension, sick leave
  • Liable for business costs
  • Working from home
  • Lower pay
  • Sporadic payment
  • Lack of support network e.g. colleagues, management

Freelancers who work from home may experience some of the same disadvantages as home workers.

Tips on being freelance

Here are some general tips on doing freelance work:

  • Keep on top of your book-keeping
  • Contingency plan for illness or times without work
  • Be proactive in securing work
  • Secure clear signed contracts with client/customers where possible (including a payment schedule)
  • Pay into a personal pension plan
  • Join a union or trade association
  • Remember why you are freelancing e.g. work-life balance
  • Join or create a support network of other freelancers
  • Clarify your obligations regarding tax, insurance, and other legal matters

Further advice

Further guidance on freelancers is available on the GOV.UK website or from PGC, a trade association representing freelancers, contractors and consultants.

Some unions, such as Prospect, offer advice and support for individuals who find that freelancing is the only or preferred route of employment available to them. For more information, refer to the Prospect  website or for those who individuals who work in the media and entertainment, the BECTU sector of Prospect.