The scheme to help self-employed people through the coronavirus pandemic is now open – more than two weeks ahead of schedule.
The programme, meant to mirror the furloughing system for staff, will make a one-off payment of up to £7,500 to cover three months' earnings.
The Treasury said millions of people are set to benefit from the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS), which offers grants worth 80% of average monthly trading profits for the self-employed.
The first people to apply should get paid by 25 May, with officials saying that the money is then expected to land in bank accounts within six working days of a claim.
Originally the government had been criticised for setting out plans to only get the scheme up and running by the start of June at the earliest.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak said: “We’re working ahead of time to deliver support to the self-employed and from today, applications open for the millions of people eligible for the scheme.
“With payments arriving before the end of this month, self-employed across the UK will have money in their pockets to help them through these challenging times.”
Those who are eligible for the scheme have been assigned a specific date to apply on by HM Revenue and Customs.
Derek Cribb, chief executive of the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed, said: “For the self-employed, coronavirus is not only a health crisis, but also a pressing income crisis.
"It is therefore very welcome that the government has managed to get this new scheme in place ahead of schedule, and that a section of the freelance community can now get the help they need early.
“We are delighted that the government has heeded much of IPSE’s advice by setting up the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme, which extends a much-needed lifeline to those self-employed people who are eligible for it.”