It’s a question that is asked regularly, and one with no concrete answer. This is largely due to the fact that calling yourself a “freelancer” is a matter of self-identification, rather than a formal legal status. A freelancer can be:

Likewise, a person who identifies as a freelancer might also choose to call themselves:

  • A contractor
  • A consultant
  • Self-employed
  • Any number of sector-specific titles

So arriving at a concrete figure for the number of freelancers in the UK is an impossible task. However there are various data sources we can use to get a rough estimate.

Office for National Statistics Labour Market Stats

Released monthly, the Labour Market Statistics report records the makeup of the UK’s workforce through sample surveys. Self-employment data was included in the report from 1992 onwards. Here are the numbers in handy scrollable graph format. Hover over a particular month for precise figures.

Self-employed (those who might call themselves freelancers) are the red line. Get this data here (updated monthly).

Companies House workload statistics

Every month Companies House publish how many new limited companies they form. According to evidence given to a House of Lords committee (PDF) in December 2013 43.5% of all UK limited companies are one-person firms (people who might identify as a freelancer or contractor).

According to the latest available data, there were 2,706,363 limited companies on the Companies House register, meaning there are roughly 1,177,268 one-person limited companies in the UK. But again, it’s impossible to know how many of these identify as “freelancers”.

Independent research

IPSE and Kingston University regularly issues reports on the number of freelancers in the UK, arriving at an estimate by tallying numbers of workers by sector and employment status. IPSE’s estimates for the number of freelancers in the UK are –