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How to pay taxes as a screenwriter

We've updated this guide on 5th March 2021

A screenwriter, as with many writers, is often self-employed. This means that paying your taxes is your own responsibility and is not done for you by an employer – in this case, the production you’re working on. In some cases, if a screenwriter is employed by a regular film/TV production (e.g. a soap), they may pay taxes via Pay As You Earn (PAYE) which is done by an employer.

For the most part though, this isn’t the case. 

As a self-employed screenwriter, there are a few things to consider when it comes to tax. 

  1. Do you have to do a tax return?
  2. How much should you pay?
  3. What can you expense?

Do you have to do a tax return?

When you go self-employed, you have to declare your earnings to HMRC so that they can calculate how much tax you owe them each tax year. To declare this, you have to do what’s known as a Self Assessment.

Make sure that you register for Self Assessment online by 5th October to pay your tax bill for the tax year that has just ended.

  • You work on screenwriting in the 2021/22 tax year
  • You must register for Self Assessment online by 5th October 2022
  • The deadline to pay the 2021/22 tax bill is 31st January 2023

You will only have to do a tax return if you earn over a certain amount in each tax year.

How much tax does a screenwriter pay?

A self-employed screenwriter pays a tax bill made up of Income Tax and National Insurance. 

The rate of Income tax that you have to pay in the 2020/21 tax year is based on the following table:

IncomeTax rate
Up to £12,5700%Personal allowance
£12,571 to £50,27020%Basic rate
£50,270 to £150,00040%Higher rate
over £150,00045%Additional rate

You will only have to pay income tax when you earn more than £12,500 in a tax year. 

National Insurance, however, is different. You’ll have to pay this no matter what you’re earning. National Insurance is important to stay on top of because it qualifies you for various state-provided benefits. 

Self-employed screenwriters pay both:

Click the links above to read more about how much each of the calculations are made. 

As a self-employed screenwriter, you’re not immediately eligible for the Job Seeker’s Allowance – so you may also choose to pay Class 1 National Insurance to qualify. It’s a good backup to have in case of an economic downturn like the COVID pandemic.

What expenses can a screenwriter claim?

In case you’re not already aware, the self-employed workforce can deduct expenses from their earnings. Anything that you spend on your business can be deducted from your gross earnings each year to lower your tax bill. 

Here are some examples of what can be deducted:

  • Agent commission
  • Office electronics (your laptop, computer, printer, phone etc.)
  • Screenplay formatting software
  • Office space
  • Business travel (train tickets, bus fare etc.)
  • Studio overheads (rehearsal room hire)
  • Training courses

You can technically expense anything that you’ve spent on your business so make sure that you’re as organised as possible. Start a spreadsheet as soon as you can with all your income and business spending.

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