This is the transcript of an interview between Robert Bradley of Bradley & Associates and Annabel Kaye of Irenicon. Robert’s firm is accredited by the Professional Contractors Group, and he regularly speaks on the subject of Tax Status and IR35.
Annabel: One of things we find when working with entrepreneurs is that they think if someone is self employed they should pay their own tax and national insurance and that should be an end of it. The situation is more complicated than that since calling everyone self employed doesn’t mean they are and even if they are HMRC can make you deduct tax or charge you if you haven’t. The whole tax thing is about as clear as mud to most people. HMRC have recently updated their tests and guidance and I have asked Robert Bradley to try to help me understand who has to deduct tax and when.
Robert: HMRC has struggled with enforcing clear rules around tax status, particularly in the construction industry and in the case of the one man consultant contractor who is potentially subject to the Intermediaries legislation, more commonly known as IR35. The latest new ‘Business Entity’ tests which have been introduced under IR35are an attempt to help businesses understand when they should be deducting tax from freelancers and when they shouldn’t. Whether this will really help in this process remains to be seen. To date they have not been well received.
Annabel: I have been through the tests on the website with several clients to see what answers they get. While some are getting very clear indicators that they should be deducting tax under IR35, a lot are getting results in the ‘grey’ zone. If someone uses the tests and puts in honest data, are they in the clear if the tests say – don’t deduct tax?
Robert: Well, as a specialist in this area, I think they have missed an opportunity to use existing cases and make them part of the online tests so that people can be fairly certain where they are if their situation matches one of the key cases. There is also no real understanding of how small businesses and start ups really work, so a lot of genuine one person businesses may come out of the tests as ‘not a business’ because they don’t need indemnity insurance, can’t create efficiencies internally, and don’t need to advertise or operate from premises. In the world of social media you may not have any paid advertising receipts and yet have a very successful business. Lots of real businesses are start up and run from home and the tests put too much emphasis on where people work, which in the modern online and virtual world is increasingly irrelevant.
Annabel: We have seen a few new clients who have come to us when HMRC are saying these people are really employees. The problem is that at that point there is often a disputed liability for back tax – either under PAYE or IR35. Do you see these new tests as helping people avoid that problem?
Robert: While I do see that we need to guard against abuses like having a job, leaving it, forming a personal services company and going back into that same job with a different tax structure, I think there are real problems with some of the other tests. For example how can someone provide substitutes if their skills are very specific?
Annabel: We have looked at that element. The reality is with the right framework agreement that enables a substitute to be used (with the client’s consent) it is possible to get a substitute to do some of the work. It does not have to be all of it. For example, a high level IT specialist may still have some ‘hack’ work to do within a contract and can organise someone suitably qualified, with the client’s consent to do that. Sometimes that can be really good for the business and can lead to a serious look at whether the boss ought to be doing the grunt work – something that is often the turning point from ‘solopreneur’ to real entrepreneur with a team of associates and/or employees around them.
Robert: I don’t think the new guidance will help many contractors have peace of mind about IR35.
HMRC are currently targeting IT contractors, so perhaps when a few cases have come to court and been settled we will have a clearer picture of how the new rules will determine the IR35 status of one man contractor companies. In the meantime, I will be updating my social media as updates are published.
Thank you Robert, it’s clearly a very challenging area of taxation and I appreciate you taking time out to share your thoughts with us.
Annabel Kaye is Managing Director of Irenicon Ltd, a specialist employment law consultancy.
Tel: 08452 303050 Fax: 08452 303060
You can follow Annabel on Twitter