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The path towards the implementation of changes to the off-payroll working rules (IR35) in the private sector has been a bumpy one. Despite outspoken sector resistance, a challenge from the House of Lords, and a delay of 12 months caused by Covid-19’s, it is looking increasingly likely that these changes will go ahead on April 6th, 2021.

On that date, it will become the responsibility of medium and large-sized clients in the private sector (implementation in the public sector began in 2017) to determine the employment status of any worker fulfilling a role under their contractual premise. For contractors and freelancers, this may mean those regular assignments being undertaken by their limited company of PSC be deemed inside IR35. In this situation said contractor would be viewed as an employee of the company and subject to PAYE.

For contractors, the financial implications surrounding the IR35 changes are substantial. Being a contractor within IR35 means that you’re eligible to pay more taxes than a regular employee (you’d be responsible for both Employer and Employee NIC). It also means that you’ll be unable to earn dividends from your company – which are typically subject to less tax (NIC’s are not payable on dividends). To give a brief number-crunching example, an individual with an annual income of around £45k would take home around £8.5k less per year if they fall within IR35 – from that perspective, it’s easy to see why there is resistance.

So what are the options for contractors? Well, there are a few cards on the table – firstly let’s remember your contract may fall outside IR35, in which case it’s business as usual. You could also be very selective of your contract definitions to ensure you have every possible chance of falling outside IR35 (Though final determination falls to the client, not yourself).

You could become a permanent employee of the client. Listening to the masses, we’re finding that this is not a very popular option – but it would mean that you’re not paying as much tax as you would as a contractor fulfilling the same assignment duties. 

You could choose to trade via an umbrella company such as ourselves. An umbrella acts as an intermediary between yourself and the client – you wouldn’t be employed by your own limited company for this particular assignment, but you’d retain your flexibility and independence from the end client and wouldn’t be responsible for paying employers NIC. You would also shed the administration of payroll and contract review, and you’d have access to employee rights such as holiday pay, sickness pay, etc.

But other murmurs are beginning to increase in volume. Is the UK positioning itself to lose a high percentage of extremely talented agency workers? Contractors tend to be independently minded – they understand their worth and can be hesitant to conform – because of this, we’ve heard from more than a few individuals who are planning to leave the UK altogether. Other countries in the EU and further afield remain flexible in their approach to working/assignment conditions. Specialists in a variety of industries; IT, engineering, healthcare, energy (to name a few) understand that they have no geographic boundaries limiting their opportunities. If there are higher earning to be had elsewhere, why would they choose to stay within a system that is becoming ever more restrictive?

Is the UK poised to lose a generation of young talent who have little ties or responsibility keeping them grounded? Only time will tell. One thing that we know for sure is that in April 2021 the scene will be turbulent and confusing for many, umbrella companies will be in high demand, many limited companies and PSC’s will cease trading and we predict that the UK may lose some of its best and brightest prospects for pastures greener.

As a contractor, what are your thoughts on IR35 reform? Do you have a plan to continue your trade? Let us know.

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