The overwhelming shift to freelance work coupled with VAT rules have created "a bit of a crisis" in the hairdressing industry, according to a Glasgow salon owner.

An estimated 70% of the industry is now self-employed with more people renting chairs in salons, which has turned business owners into landlords.

Stuart Whitelaw, co-owner of  Mesart Hair Design in Glasgow's west end said that while there was room for everyone in the industry it was "no longer a level-playing field" because freelance stylists (or salons) earning less than £85,000 are not required to pay VAT.

He said the shift towards mobile work had also had repercussions for training because it meant fewer salons were offering apprenticeships.

The number of salons in the UK fell by 527 last year, the biggest drop in ten years.

There are now 17, 517 hair salons on the high street, 1,500 fewer than a decade ago.

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In a January survey by the National Hair and Beauty Federation (NHBF) 49% of salons were unsure if their business would survive past the end of the financial year.

"What would make a big difference [to the hairdressing industry] is levelling the playing field when it comes to the VAT," said Mr Whitelaw.

"I think over 70% of the hairdressing industry is now self-employed.

The Herald:

"People will always want to be employed because they like the security, they like having paid holidays and maternity leave but the problem the freelance community creates is that it isn't a level playing field.

"Less than a quarter of the hairdressing industry pay VAT now or are registered to pay VAT.

"So less than a quarter of our industry is turning over £85,000 a year which doesn't really stack up to me.

"If you are only turning over £85,000 a year, by the time you pay your products, chair rental it's quite tight margin-wise. In Glasgow city centre you are looking at about £100 a day for a chair so it's expensive.

He added: "You could go and have your hair cut and coloured by someone along the road who is renting a chair and they will charge the same prices but 20% of what I charge you goes straight to the VAT man.

"The only way of levelling the VAT threshold is lowering the rate for the 24% who pay it or lowering the bar so that people who are renting chairs are liable to pay some VAT too so it doesn't make [freelance work] so appealing."

Mr Whitelaw said the standard of college graduates applying for jobs had dropped and said this was in part due to the effects of the pandemic disrupting training and students "still being passed".

He said: "The colleges still had to hit their numbers for the course so they passed a lot of people who had done very little and weren't experienced.

"Whether that will balance itself out, I'm not sure but you are definitely seeing it from a hiring perspective.

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"It does take us quite a long time to train our juniors so we are always looking for people who are already trained.

"But definitely some who are applying for jobs aren't quite ready. They wouldn't quite be at the standard that we would need them to be.

"It creates a bit of a difficult one because they would need to do a bit of extra training with us before we put them on the floor."

Mr Whitelaw said there were also fewer younger people showing an interest in hairdressing and said he felt the job wasn't "championed" enough in schools.

"We just don't get the same interest," he said.

"What is amazing to me is that some people do overlook it [as a career] because you can have such a great career and sometimes I feel as if it's not championed enough to younger people."