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NUJ Head Office has sent another email to members on reduced rate, attempting to clarify. It is not as clear as it could be. Further down the message says:

Members for whom 1 per cent of taxable income would be less than the £10 rate will continue to be entitled to make an application for reduced subs of 1 per cent of their earnings. This is subject to an absolute minimum of a third of the Grade 1 subscription rate (£60 / €69 a year).

That "absolute minimum" would be £5 / €6 per month, as explained below.

Subs rates clarified

FREELANCE MEMBERS of the NUJ, and others, on the lowest reduced subs - around the fiver a month mark - have had reason for puzzlement and possibly alarm after a recent statement from the union's HQ that the new minimum rate was £10. It isn't. For actual cost details see down below the explanation.

The mistake (of omission) arose because of a tricky bout of discussion/horsetrading at Delegates Meeting (DM) in April. The meeting had before it a radical proposal to move to an entirely earnings-related basis for subs. This would have replaced the longstanding work-related categories. But it encountered enough opposition to be dropped. To keep the union's finances afloat a basic subs increase compromise was required quickly - and was agreed.

In the process, on the reduced subs side, the "one per cent rule" was maintained unaltered. This specifies that "No member shall be required to pay contributions of more than one per cent of his/her taxable income" with a further clause in the same rule specifying that "the minimum rate of contribution is not less than one third of the rate for Grade 1".

Translating into hard cash: that meant the absolute minimum sub rose, with effect from 1 August 2014, to £5 / €6 per month - since full Grade 1 subs rose to £15 / €18. The previous Delegate Meeting, in 2012, set the absolute minimum at £4.50 / €6 per month, by deciding that the full Grade 1 rate was £13.49 / €18.04 - changes in the Euro exchange rate explain the lack of change there.

In the light of this the "new minimum" £10 / €11.50 is ineffective. It is true that it was passed by NUJ members at DM: we have to write it off as some kind of hasty-drafting "debris" from part of the abandoned earnings-related proposal. Member democracy sometimes does these things, despite undoubted best efforts all round (nobody mention camels now, they work quite well).

And actually the one per cent rule does produce something close to equally earnings-related subs for any member who cares to claim it, up to a taxable income of £21,000 a year. For freelances, of course, "taxable" income is gross income minus expenses allowable for tax purposes.

However, the rub comes with the decision to delete the "half per cent rule". A fairly recent addition, it used to slot in with the one per cent rule, quoted above, like this: subs should be no more than one per cent of taxable income "or 0.5 per cent in the case of those paid £13,500 per year or less".

The purpose was to give extra help to our lowest-earning members (to put it crudely, whether on part time or hard times). The chief anomaly that resulted was that, for example, members claiming half per cent subs on £13,000 per year (taxable) paid £5.41 per month, while members claiming one per cent subs on £14,000 per year paid £11.66 per month i.e. more than twice as much.

Well, it seems the majority of half per cent reduced-sub payers are at the lowest-income end so their subs will go up only around 50p per month. But the arithmetic of this rule deletion does of course mean that, in percentage terms, the increases increase until they hit the one per cent level i.e. they double.

The cash details go like this for members earning under £13,600 (relative to the Grade 1 increase from 2012-14's £168 per year to the new £180 per year), therefore shifted from half per cent to one per cent reduced subs:

  • At a taxable income of £6000pa monthly subs go up from £4.50 to £5;
  • at £7000pa up from £4.50 to £5.83;
  • at £8000pa up from £4.50 to £6.66;
  • at £9000pa up from £4.50 to £7.50;
  • at £10,000pa up from £4.50 to £8.33;
  • at £11,000pa up from £4.58 to £9.16;
  • at £12,000pa up from £5 to £10; and
  • at £13,000pa up from £5.41 to £11.33.
(If you need to know the Euro equivalents, ask and we'll get the calculator out again.)

However - this subject is a magnet for howevers - DM did introduce a new option to help low-earning freelances.

"Temporary membership" had previously served as a three-year introductory status for those striving to make a go of freelancing. It has now been opened up to freelances whose journalistic work/income declines for whatever reason (again, for example if they face part time or hard times). Temporary members pay £5 / €5.75 monthly in the first year, £7 / €8.05 in the second, £8.50 / €9.77 in the third.

Reduced-subs claimants, existing and new, should get their financial details into the NUJ's Membership Department as soon as possible to sort it out under the new rules. Do not worry about the official 1 August deadline: the Membership Department will take more than a moment to work through the subs change all round. Anyone having Daily Mailish thoughts about this issue should note that all claims have to be backed by proof of financial standing: it's real life, not a matter of anyone thinking "Well, I rather fancy paying less" and getting waved through.

Meanwhile, over at the main subs rates, where it's what you do rather than what you earn that decides your grade, the two freelance grades are:

  • Grade 2 £18 / €23 per month (up from £17.08 / €22.95), £216 / €276 per year (£204.96 / €275.40) - this grade is for all freelances excluding those working mainly for "regional media organisations"
  • Grade 1 £15 / €18 per month (up from £13.49 / €18.04), £180 / €216 per year (£161.88 / €216.48) - this grade, yup, for freelances working mainly for "regional media organisations".

The above may be a tough read; it may have provoked intermittent thoughts about dogs' breakfasts; but it's all been decided, this year and over the past 100 plus, by ourselves, the membership, via democratically elected reps - nobody else has ever had a hand in it. So if any/all of it seems unwieldy, unfair, or unfeasible, it's up to us to get really thought-through proposals (maybe developing/improving the earnings-related effort attempted this year?) well discussed and ready to roll to the next DM in April, 2016.

Barry McCall, Chair of the NUJ's Finance Committee, has asked to add this:

There has been some confusion among lower paid members regarding the new subs rates. The 1% rate is still in place. If your taxable income is less than £12,000 (€13,800) a year you can apply for a reduced subscription rate of 1% of that income. You apply for this in the normal way by supplying proof of your last year's earnings to the union's Finance & Membership Department.

Members on reduced subscriptions have to reapply for the reduction at the beginning of each year. Members who do not get their application in on time are put onto the standard rate for their sector (usually grade 2 for freelances) but have the 1% restored as soon as they get their application in and suffer no financial loss as a result.

This year, due to the wide-ranging nature of the subs reform proposals put to DM, the renewal date for reduced subscriptions was put back to 1 August. Members who believe they are entitled to the 1% rate should therefore get their application and proof of income into the Finance &: Membership Department as soon as possible.

A lesson for us all...

There are lessons for us all in this saga. Let's learn. A recent email sent in the name of the General Secretary to members on reduced rate subscriptions opens:

Following the recent subs rises agreed at the union's delegate meeting in April, the new minimum rate for membership is £10 or 11.50 Euro per month, a rise which is applicable from 1st July.

This is using "new minimum rate" in the sense of "the name of a Delegate Meeting decision", which makes sense inside the office, but in few other places. It does not mean "the fewest number of pounds that members can now pay", which is what the people to whom it is addressed would understand by a "new minimum rate".

Two paragraphs down the message defines:

an absolute minimum of a third of the Grade 1 subscription rate (£60 / €69 a year).

That "absolute minimum" would be £5 / €6 per month, as explained several times above.

The lesson? Always write from the point of view of your audience, not that of your employer or client. And never get rid of the sub-editors, whose job is to catch writers when we fall over on that task.

Last modified: 26 Aug 2014 - © 2014 contributors
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