The IR35 ‘off payroll’ rules will be extended to the private sector from April 2020 onwards, directly affecting a large number of contractors. What exactly does this mean, and what can contractors and clients do to prepare in advance?
What does IR35 private sector reform mean?
The Intermediaries Legislation (IR35) has been around since 2000 – its core aim is to remove the tax advantages of providing services via a limited company for individuals who are not truly in business on their own account. In other words, the rules are aimed at so-called ‘disguised employees’ – people whose working practices are more akin to those of traditional employees.
Despite various amendments to IR35 over the years, successive Governments have claimed that too many limited company owners are still illegitimately working outside the rules.
As a result, new ‘off payroll’ rules were implemented in April 2017 for contractors working for public sector organisations. Instead of contractors themselves being responsible for determining their IR35 status, this obligation has been handed to the engager of each contractor, i.e. the client. Where a contractor is deemed to be ‘inside’ IR35, the client must deduct employees’ NICs and income tax from the contractor’s pay, as well as paying employers’ NICs.
Unfortunately, the tools and information required for clients to make an informed choice have been widely criticised (particularly the online CEST employment status tool), and given the penalties for making an incorrect employment status determination, some clients have opted to make blanket ‘inside’ IR35 decisions.
At the 2018 Budget, the Chancellor announced that the ‘off payroll’ rules will be extended to most private sector businesses from April 2020. Only ‘small business’ clients will be excluded. You can access the Budget 2018 brief here (PDF).
The Treasury expects this new measure to net £1.3bn per year by 2023.
What happens next?
The widespread problems associated with the public sector rollout will no doubt have influenced the Treasury’s decision to delay private sector reform until April 2020 rather than 2019, and a consultation on how the reforms will be rolled out in practice will be launched shortly.
What should contractors do?
It is probably worth remembering that the contracting industry has survived an onslaught of legislation over the past two decades – many predicted the demise of the profession when IR35 was first mentioned in 1999, for example. This never happened.
Unlike the public sector rollout, it seems likely that most private sector contractors will be impacted by the April 2020 changes, as many work for large clients, not ‘small organisations’ (of 50 individuals or less).
However, given the timescales before the new rules come into play, and the fact that the finer detail has yet to be worked out (a consultation awaits), it might be premature to take any action right away.
The CIOT has warned HMRC that “the abandonment of limited companies could create some very messy compliance issues”, particularly at the lower-paid end of the contract market where many workers have less choice over the business structure they operate under. As has been the case following the public sector roll out, individuals “could then find themselves encouraged into other dubious arrangements that help engagers protect their profitability.”
Likewise, the FCSA also strongly warns contractors from considering joining non-compliant tax avoidance schemes as an alternative to the limited company model.
The organisation’s chief executive, Julia Kermode, says that “the reality is that the tax and NICs will still be due and HMRC will pursue the individual for this, and with interest, and however tempting, contractors must resist such schemes. We will continue lobbying for all such schemes to be stamped out before any IR35 reforms in the private sector.”
In the meantime, you (as a limited company director) remain responsible for determining your IR35 status. We recommend seeking professional IR35 contract status reviews, and taking out tax investigation insurance just in case (it is relatively inexpensive).
What should clients do?
Given the dependence of many large companies on short-term contractors, it is unsurprising that many industry groups have urged clients to start making arrangements right away – to ensure they are ready to take on their new responsibilities in April 2020.
Samantha Hurley, Operations Director at APSCo, says that despite the tight timescales, “…organisations will at least have a clearer idea from the upcoming consultation on the detail of the changes to enable them to upskill their workforces to be able to make appropriate status determinations and to get their internal processes and IT systems in order, to cope with the new rules.”
Clearly, a lot rests on the outcome of the consultation; “APSCo has expressed real concern that the current public sector rules would not work properly in the private sector, particularly given fears over the accuracy of the CEST tool, and the lack of liability given to the end client.”
Seb Maley, CEO of Qdos has urged businesses to “get to work immediately – because contrary to speculation – these changes are manageable. And we certainly can’t pin hopes on the Government performing yet another tax U-turn.”
The FSCA’s Julia Kermode notes that the decision to concentrate on larger rather than small organisations was “foolhardy given that large businesses are precisely the ones that are least well-placed to accommodate the change due to the impact on their IT infrastructure should they need to process deemed payments to their contractors.”
Kermode says that over the next year and a half, many companies will need to invest in significant IT development to ensure both accounts payable and payroll systems can communicate with each other, given the complexity in processing off-payroll workers’ invoices.
For more information, try our extra guide for clients – what can engagers do to mitigate against the IR35 private sector reforms?
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