Are you a freelancer who works through a Personal Services Company (“PSC”), or do you engage freelancers who do so? If so, you need to be aware that the tax position will be changing in April 2020.
Proposed Changes to Off-Payroll Working Rules (IR35)
The Government issued a Policy Paper and Consultation Document on 5 March 2019 (“Off-Payroll Working Rules From April 2020”). If you would like to read the paper in full, you can find it by clicking here. The consultation runs until 28 May 2019, but it is clear that the Government does not intend to make any significant changes to its proposals as a result of feedback it receives to this consultation.
A Finance Bill will be published in the summer and, once it is passed into law, it will implement changes to how the IR35 regime works. Although details of the proposed changes will not be known until the Bill is published, the points covered in the Government’s March 2019 consultation indicate the nature of the changes that will come into effect in April 2020. In this post, we consider some of the proposed April 2020 changes set out in the consultation.
Background to the Changes
Working via a PSC (or some other form of intermediary) is often referred to as “off-payroll working”, and the tax rules that apply to it are usually referred to collectively as “IR35”. IR35 does not alter or dictate the employment law position either as to workers’ rights or as to whether someone is employed as opposed to self-employed. Nor does IR35 alter the general tax law establishing the amount of tax liability.
As it currently operates, and as it will operate from April 2020, IR35 is only, in effect, a means to aid collection of the full and correct amount of tax and National Insurance (“NI”) to be paid in respect of certain payments where a freelancer works through a PSC. To find out more about IR35, check out our guidance notes IR35 as background to the latest changes to IR35 being proposed by HMG. You can find our guidance notes here and our information pages here.
Operation of IR35 from 2000, and Recent Developments
The operation of IR35 depends on identifying where a freelancer working for a client through a PSC is, in substance not form, an employee of that client. When IR35 was originally introduced, the rules required the PSC itself to identify whether use of the PSC to receive gross payments from a client in any instance was “disguised employment” by the client and to arrange payment of tax and NI under PAYE if that was the case.
Freelancers (and sometimes family members) are usually the only directors and/or shareholders of a PSC. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Government found that PSCs could not be relied upon to implement the IR35 rules. PSCs commonly paid dividends to the freelancer (as a shareholder of the PSC) rather than a full (or any) salary to the freelancer. As a result, PSCs did not pay the tax or NI that would have been paid had they paid a salary derived from the gross payments made by clients.
Consequently, under a change in the law in 2017, the Government began to implement anti-avoidance measures. Since April 2017, where the client is a public sector entity, the burden of assessing the tax status of freelancers shifted on to the public body concerned, so that it, not the PSC, is responsible for identifying such “disguised employment” situations. Where the public sector body does so in any case, it must operate PAYE and make net payments to the PSC. Many, including IPSE (the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self Employed), think that these changes have had damaging effects on the public sector, and that any extension of these changes to the private sector will be also be damaging for all concerned.
The April 2020 Changes to IR35
Since late 2017, the Government has indicated its intention to extend similar changes to the private sector, although the April 2020 changes will differ in some respects from the measures that currently apply to the public sector. From April 2020, the private sector client will be responsible for determining whether the freelancer is a “disguised employee” and therefore to be treated as if an employee. If the entity in the labour supply chain which pays the fees to the PSC is not also the client of the PSC, then the fee payer will be responsible for operating PAYE. If the client determines that IR35 does not apply, then the client or the fee payer will pay the PSC gross.
However, these new rules will not apply to all private sector clients. The legislation will provide that clients which are “small” entities will not be involved in having to determine freelancers’ status and, whether or not the client is also the fee payer, the fee payer will not need to operate PAYE. For this purpose, “small” means that if the client is corporate, the rules will not apply to it if it falls within at least two of the following:
- Its annual turnover does not exceed £10.2 million;
- Its balance sheet total does not exceed £5.1 million;
- The number of its employees does not exceed an average of 50 in the year.
If the client is non-corporate and it is “small”, the rules will similarly not apply to it. The criteria for “small” have not yet been made clear, but they will fairly closely follow the criteria for corporate entities.
This means that where a client in the private sector is “small”, the responsibility for determining the freelancer’s status will remain with the PSC as at present.
Before deciding whether IR35 rules apply, are they even relevant to you?
These 2017 and 2020 changes to how IR35 operates only impact on any case where IR35 is relevant, i.e. where a PSC is involved. If a freelancer does not work through a PSC but through some other type of entity (e.g. an agency or managed service company), then other rules will or might apply, so it is important to understand what amounts to a PSC for the purposes of IR35.
So, if you engage a freelancer working for you directly as opposed to working through a PSC, you will not be affected by IR35. However, as a consequence of normal tax law (not IR35 rules) applicable in these cases, you will still need to decide whether they are an employee rather than a sole trader or contractor. If they are an employee, you will have to operate PAYE.
Determination of a Freelancer’s Status
Although clients will need to apply the normal employment status tests (based on case law – see our helpful tips, here) to decide whether someone is a “disguised employee”, it can be difficult to do so, and that difficulty is aggravated by the fact that HMRC’s view of status in a case cannot necessarily be regarded as correct. Where HMRC has contested the status of contractors in tax tribunals, it has lost a large percentage of them. HMRC provide a tool, the Check Employment Status Tool (“CEST”), which clients may (but do not have to) use to assess employment status. CEST’s reputation has unfortunately become somewhat sullied due to many public sector clients finding that it is biased towards finding that an individual is an employee. This has not inspired confidence amongst freelancers or their clients. HMRC has said that it will enhance CEST to make it more suited to the private sector.
New Information Requirements
Currently, where the client is in the public sector, it must tell the entity it contracts with of its determination of the freelancer’s status. From April 2020, the Government intends to introduce new IR35 rules that will require private sector and public sector clients to inform both the entity they contract with and the freelancer or PSC of their determination and, if requested, the client’s reasons for it.
HMRC also intends the rules to require all intermediary recipients of the determination (i.e. those in the chain other than the client and the freelancer or PSC) to pass it and, if requested, the reasons for it, to the person with whom they contract.
Status Determination Disputes and Anti-Avoidance Measures
The proposed new rules for the private sector are likely to include mechanisms for challenging decisions as to whether or not a freelancer is within IR35, and a means for resolving such disputes. Where a party is initially liable to determine status and does not do so, or does so without reasonable care, or if it does not fulfil any other IR35 obligation, it will be made liable for tax and NI even if it is not the fee payer. Where a party is liable for tax and NI but in the event it cannot be collected from that party, the rules are likely to have the effect of moving liability to the next entity in the labour supply chain.
Impact of Changes on Your Business and Action Needed Now
The changes might have an effect on you if you are a freelance business or your business engages freelancers. The effects might include an increase in the burden of administration work, the cost of that extra work, practical difficulties in operating within the changed rules, and the commercial and financial impact on your business.
With less than a year to go before new rules come into effect, it is very important that you start now to take steps to prepare for the new IR35 rules if you do engage any freelancers through intermediaries. There are numerous steps that should be considered. It is recommended that you begin by identifying those freelancers working for you through intermediaries and the labour supply chain in each case, and then implementing processes to determine freelancers’ status. Further steps are likely to be advisable, and we recommend that you seek advice or guidance on these from suitable advisers or sources.
As always, if you would like to share your thoughts as to whether and how you think these proposed changes will impact you or others with whom you deal, we would be glad to hear from you in the comments, below.