back to article Tories may scrap IR35 tax rules for contractors

The Conservatives have pledged a "fundamental review" of the IR35 tax regime if they win the election, claiming it is unfair to freelance IT workers. The rules were introduced by Labour in 2000 to target the "disguised employment" loophole. Contractors would set up their own limited company and take a low salary to cut their …

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Fundamental Review means...

Let me translate this for the politicially innocent:

"We're going to pretend for a while that we are going to scrap it, without actually making any hard promises, and once we're elected we'll realise we can't afford/don't want to scrap it, so it'll stay pretty much as it is. Or maybe even worse"

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PCG won;t be sitting back and resting

Which is why PCG will be watching this very carefully.

We've worked long and hard to get sensible responses from all of the political parties and now the Tories have made a massive step in the right direction we won't be resting on our laurels.

PCG will continue to lobby vigorously to ensure that all nano-businesses, including IT contractors, get a fair deal for the risks they take.

And yes, I am that ChrisB and I make no apologies for sounding the PCG's horn on this occasion:-)

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N2

Thank you

Lets hope we see the long awaited return of a Conservative government along with some very long awaited common sense!

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Gold badge

They cannot afford to keep it

IR35 acts as a brake on the economy. If it brought the promised income it would have at least *something* to show for it, but it even failed there. The Tories will need a LOT of intelligence to fix the heaving mess made over more than a decade, so they know they cannot afford to piss off the people that can actually do the job - if they have some brains they will throw out consultancies, get some clever people in and go for large amounts of contractors instead. Instant 30% saving and a likely increase of delivery quality.

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The law was introduce ten years ago.

"It prompted an outcry from self-employed IT workers, who mounted High Court challenges and claimed IR35 would cripple the UK IT industry."

...And did it?

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Anonymous Coward

Yep.

It did for the independant small contractor.

Big corporate concerns were not affected, except insofar as it

removed some rather irritating & annoying competitors.

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I'd say so

I know of several contractors who only work overseas now.

I know some who took permanent positions at stupidly inflated salaries and now no longer provide value to the companies who employ them because the dim-witted bean counters won't pay to train them and keep their skills at the useful cutting edge the same way the guys did themselves when they were contractors.

I know others who have difficulty getting a decent rate because most of the good ones left the market leaving the dross that couldn't get permanent positions or could only charge a low rate because they were rubbish. As a result, confidence in the contractor market has fallen and rates have dropped even lower.

As a result of all of that when my company needs to employ contractors for those short-term work spikes we generally have only the choice of "best of a bad lot". If we're lucky one of the good ones will be available when we need them & we happily pay for them.

OK, maybe the UK IT industry isn't crippled, but it's limping badly.

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FAIL

Aye

Yes it did, at least for a time. 2000 was a terrible time to be a contractor with lay-offs after the millennium work being compounded by a new tax with very vague rules that only benefited the big players. I know a number of contractors who retired or moved abroad, while others had periods of unemployment. My accountant lost the vast majority of his contracting clients. And that's not even starting on the imposed changes in contracts (from the banks in my case) that took advantage of these problems.

Yes, in the end the industry has absorbed this up to a point, but to be honest, how much better and efficient would it have been without it?

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Funny, isn't it...

...how politicians promise all sorts of good things in the run up to an election.

I may be a tad cynical, but I no longer believe a single sound made by

anyone 'political'.

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What next?

What next? Scrapping the Working Time Directive so companies can screw people who as disguised as "temps".

People were avoiding tax, which is why IR35 came in. Lots of people were not playing nice and everyone paid the price for them. Look to those people who were disguised employees first.

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Stop

Yep

Tax avoidance is only for the big boys. The ordinary man should be taxed and STFU.

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Anonymous Coward

Not avoiding Tax

They were not avoiding tax and did not avoid tax. Tax was payable at the normal rate on salary or dividends.

They only thing saved on by operating in this way was National Insurance and even then they would (or should) ensure they pay the minimum contribution.

It is what every other company can do, just contractors (and not just in IT) were targeted.

Bearing in mind officially contractors could claim little in expenses and often had to pay 2 (or even at one time 3) lots of poll tax. Those that contracted close to home were probably taking the p**s and were often really employees, those that genuinely worked away from home, changed jobs regularly and commuted long distance at weekends (for the same money) were genuinely disadvantaged by IR35.

In the mean time MP's got all sorts of expenses, £20K living away from home allowance (tax free) and double the standard rate for car journeys.

All IR35 has meant is umbrella companies (taking a fee so more cost to all) or clever schemes to get round the rules.

Its probably cost more to run than its raised.

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Re: What next?

IR35 was supposed to target people who left a job on Friday and came back, to the same job, on Monday as a contractor. It was not supposed to target those of us who contracted our services to various companies.

Post IR35 I am supposed to pay 40% income tax and both the employers and employees NI contributions on 95% of what I charge for my services. I am not allowed to use the income to increase/maintain my skill set (and so keep myself competitive). I can not keep money in my company (I have to pay it all out as wages) so that when I do not have a contract or when I am ill I can still pay myself. However, large IT service companies can charge exactly the same as I do and employ somebody on low wages to perform the same service whilst paying out the remainder to themselves as dividends. In other words IR35 effectively means that an individual is not allowed to sell their services as a service, only large companies are allowed to do this.

Over the last 10 years I have spent approximately 4 years of the time without a contract due to serious illness. Had I been forced into IR35 I would probably have ended up on the dole and been in serious financial difficulty. As it is I have not claimed a single penny from the government and pay my taxes on time and in full.

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Anonymous Coward

@Not avoiding tax

I was being sarcastic.

I speak as someone who's been a contractor for 17 years, I pissed off with the attack on the ordinary man while the big consultancies avoid taxes by all means of jiggery-pokery.

IR35 is an ineffective piece of legislation. The number of companies caught out is tiny. The main beneficiaries have been accountants and insurers who offer policies to cover the cost of a tax inspection.

Mind you, the Tories can promise me sex with Penelope Cruz and I still wouldn't vote for them.

p.s. By my reckoning it is tax avoidance - legally using the law to reduce payment of taxes - as opposed to evasion - illegal measures to avoid paying taxes.

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FAIL

What a total failure

I can utterly understand the Tories cutting this tax. It's restricted trade, restricted profits of UK based workers, and has raised a poultry £9.2m - which is most likely less that the amount it cost to administer the change anyway.

Getting rid of it is more common sense than it is political manoeuvring - even if politics is the motivation for bothering. Labour haven't gotten rid of it already since they'd admit to making a stupid mistake.

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Anonymous Coward

@zenith

Cluck cluck cluck cluck cluck-cluuuuck.

A poultry reply, but it's the best I can manage.

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Anonymous Coward

IR35 killed a lot of smaller company ambitions

IR35 and its ilk where the end of me operating as an IT consultant. With over 20 years of experience in the software and infrastructure market I was doing reasonably well but, faced with a choice between high accountancy bills or operating 2 jobs - one just bookkeeping to keep ahead of the beurocracy curve - I just went back to being a permie.

It was a usual Labourite policy envy those with half a brain cell and try to tax them to oblivion..

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Flame

What about S660

... which is potentially more harmful, can be used retrospectively and in essence does the same thing, i.e. screws the small guys.

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PCG is still working on it...

...although Jones (PCG backed) win in the House of Lords largely did for it. The Chancellor refuses to finally kill off the family business tax (Google for that phrase!) so PCG hasn't given up campaigning against it.

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IR35 stopped tax avoidance. Leave it be.

That is all.

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Stopped?

How much tax avoidance did it stop? It brought in a grand total of £9.2m over ten years. Less than a million a year on average. The country spends more than that on coffee per DAY.

It's clearly a nonentity as far as raising money or stopping tax avoidance goes... all it's done is make life more difficult for hundredsof thousands of hard working families. I'm all for stopping tax avoidance; but let's have rules which are sensibly and thoughtfully written instead of this bureaucratic mess!

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Paris Hilton

So it stopped tax avoidance did it...

I'd like to see your reasoning behind this. what it did, as so eloquently highlighted by a previous poster, was penalise those of us who have to work away from home to the detriment of our home life whilst failing to touch those corporate scallies who seem immune from any kind of governmental control. Sounds like you are an embittered permie who carries a chip on his shoulder about us 'overpaid contractors' without having the least understanding of what is involved and the sacrifices we have to make.

Paris - cos' there isn't a symbol for a cock

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IT Angle

on the railways maybe

IR35 came in - as far as i understand, after a train company sacked all its drivers and re-hired them as independent limited companies.

Clever move eh?

well it required a distinction between disguised employment - as in this "friday to monday" scenario, and consultancy.

That was the official line anyway - i agree it doesn't square with the general onslaught against IT contractors, who were actually previously pushed by Govt into incorporation, and were generally perceived as having a bit of an easy time wrt taxation.

I suspect that the Tories have realised that said contractors provide an essential cross-pollination task in industry and work pretty hard without a safety net.

Companies cannot afford to keep this talent on the books all the way through the business cycle, so the liquidity is provided - arguably at a cost in terms of PAYE revenue - by us contractors who then need to live by our wits and (groan) deliver value to the greater economy.

Those that moan against the "tax avoidance" are free to take the challenge, the door's open...

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JCL

@troldman

If it sounds like a troll, and looks like a troll...

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Unhappy

I went permie in 2000

..like the posters above, but the reality about contracting is that India came on stream at the same time. Fat, lazy, self-important, tax avoiding job hoppers found the contract market disappear, with companies blaming "IR35" but in reality outsource agents were the ones that came knocking. Why put "an expert" on the job for 70K when you could have three people offshore?

Don't get me wrong, I loved contracting for the 8 years I did it, but permies have got a chip on their shoulder about them, managers typically dislike them and you're just expensive compared to India, Russia, Turkey or any of the outsource hotspots.

IR35 won't go, and even if it did, the good times ain't coming back.. ever.

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IR35's intent was good

It should be scrapped and replaced with one that claims back some of the tax that people are avoiding paying.

The intent of IR35 is fair IMHO, why should someone be able to charge a client say £40-£50 pound an hour and then pay themselves minimum wage and draw the rest back though dividends and pay less tax? These are the people it was aimed at, many of these work in their client's office alongside their regular staff for months and even years at a time.

The implementation of IR35 is poor though and impacts the working procedures of small ltd companies trying to run a _real_ small business. I own a limited company but I work on fixed price work that I could make a profit or or I may even make a loss, and I pay myself a real salary. It would sometimes simplify things me if for some clients I changed by the hour rather than producing revised estimates as requirements change, but that could complicate proving that I don't fall under IR35, even though I work for multiple clients at once, subcontract out work and work on my own premises/equipment. Not knowing whether I could get accused of falling under IR35 causes me no end of grief/anxiety.

Still not enough incentive to vote for them, I doubt they could manage to come up something workable or even fair anyway.

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Anonymous Coward

IR35 should be scrapped.

There is no reason for IR35 - either you are employed or self-employed. I have never understood why so many contractors seem to think they should be entitled to special treatment with regards to taxation. Virtually all contractors are nothing more than temporary agency workers and should be taxed under PAYE the same as any other agency worker and have the same rights such as entitlement to holiday pay etc. too. If you are genuinely self-employed, then you should be treated as such.

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Agreem leave it be!

Whatever anyone says, IR35 DID stop tax avoiders. We moan when politicians and lords avoid paying tax, why should the man on the street be any different. Pay your way through life! (I've been a IT contractor pre and post IR35 and I still think IR35 is fair.)

Besides, this is typical Tory election tactics, they will never actually deliver. It smacks of desperation.

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Unhappy

I've come round to thinking that

actually, tax avoidance should be mandatory, but subject to equality legislation.

Either everybody has an opportunity to avoid tax or nobody has the opportunity (corps included).

Frankly, after seeing the profligate waste of money that government is responsible for and in particular the band of lying theives currently in power, i think everybody should have the opportunity to not pay into it.

I can piss my own money up a wall. I don't need bloated government to do it for me.

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Anonymous Coward

what goes around ...

"showing the rules had raised just £9.2m since 2002, compared to the £220m the Treasury predicted."

Really ? That suggests it didn't have much impact on contractors either.

As for crippling the IT industry ? Compared to off-shoring, the recession etc ? Negligible.

I would have more sympathy for those choosing to be self-employed if I hadn't had to listen to all the tax avoiding tossers over the years "I bought a desk and sold it to the company at a profit haw-haw." "I'm only on the minimum wage, low tax and no child maintenance"

Think about blaming those people rather than the government.

(And yes, I still freelance)

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Anonymous Coward

Tax avoidance continues as far as i can see.

I work at an organisation that employs a lot of contractors. IR35 made life slightly more complicated (see comments above) but our contractors now just work through umbrella companies. Either way the law needs to change as, as far as i can see, what happens is straight tax evasion. There are individuals here who have had continuous services as contractors for 4+ years. Different teams and projects maybe but there is no reason they should be treated any differently to employees. They are no more companies than I am and their tax/NI evasion means the tax burden is heavier on the rest of us.

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Flame

Benefits.

What benefits to contractors get? Oh wait, none! No pension scheme, no additional health coverage (a lot of places offer BUPA to their employees but contractors don't get it), no holiday pay, no maternity or paternity leave, no security (employees have to be given notice, a contractor can just be told to leave - happened to me once) and often, because of the way things are set up, no recourse to those wonderful state benefits when there's no money coming in.

The greater take-home pay compensates for all of that, but of course you don't see any of that from inside your permanent cubicle do you? You just see the contractor come in earning what looks like a big lump of money, without thinking that maybe he won't have any work for the next six months and has to live on fucking beans for half that time as he waits for another contract.

IR35 forced a greater cost on us for no benefit. Unfair taxation takes the money that we need to survive.

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Headmaster

Risk / reward

"there is no reason they should be treated any differently to employees."

How about they don't get paid holiday, paid sick-days, maternity/paternity leave, can be fired at a moments notice without any HR bollocks or redundancy to worry about, cannot be promoted, etc.?

Contractors take more risk, and they get more fiscal reward for it; compared to permies who take no risk and get non-financial rewards such as rights from employee protection legislation.

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FAIL

@ Tax avoidance continues as far as i can see.

In your example above, where exactly is the tax avoidance? If they are working for an umbrella company then they are working for your company as subcontractors, and being taxed correctly as employees of that umbrella company. It seems to me that your company obviously feels it cheaper to subcontract this work out, rather than employ permanent staffers like yourself - just like thousands of other companies in the UK.

What it sounds to me is that (a) you just don't understand what you are talking about and/or (b) sour grapes that they are earning more than you.

*FAIL - for obvious reasons

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Can't El Reg get anything right?!

Well done El Reg on *completely* mischaracterizing IR35.

"The rules were introduced by Labour in 2000 to target the "disguised employment" loophole. Contractors would set up their own limited company and take a low salary to cut their income tax burden, while paying themselves in large dividends to avoid National Insurance."

Both true statements, but unrelated. *All* sane contractors set up limited companies, take a low salary, and pay themselves in dividends. You don't only avoid NI, you also pay corporation tax instead of income tax, which is much cheaper.

But IR35 did not address these usual tax avoidance schemes at all. IR35 instead addressed the cases when the contractor was a de-facto employee of his client - stayed for years, had an office, trained juniors up, that sort of thing - but was avoiding his National Insurance obligations through the limited company (you can set this up so you pay zero NI, but still get credited with having paid for the year).

IR35 said that if they decided you were doing that, on broadly arbitrary grounds, then you would have to pay NI on your entire business income - including refunds of out-of-pocket expenses (e.g. air travel, books, equipment) which regular employees do *not* pay NI on.

The problem was that if you were a bona fide contractor who happened to get a client for a long time, things were looking pretty sticky for you and no-one could predict whether or not IR35 would catch you out.

The pernicious thing about IR35, you see, is that HMRC apply it by basically *inventing* a contract that doesn't exist, saying it's an "employment contract", and claiming that a huge amount of tax is now payable under IR35. This contract is supposedly based on how things work "in practice" but the whole thing is somewhat subjective, to say the least.

There are a dozen other issue which the IR35 legislation throws up. Every one of them serves to slightly sour the deal you are trying to make with a client. The client may (rightly) be concerned about who is liable for any NI under IR35. The client may want to specify things in the contract which are incompatible with IR35 (for instance, that you work at their office, a not unusual and not unreasonable request). The client may not want you nit-picking on their "standard" contracts.

The sooner IR35 is discarded, the better. If HMRC want to address some free-loading issues they need to do it with legislation that is at least objective and deterministic, and which doesn't affect the relationship between clients and bona fide contractors.

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Anonymous Coward

@The Jase

"People were avoiding tax, which is why IR35 came in. Lots of people were not playing nice and everyone paid the price for them. Look to those people who were disguised employees first."

It is an awful lot more complicated than that, and many alternatives were suggested (by contractor groups etc.) that would have gone a long way towards ensuring a fairer amount of tax/NI was paid all round. However the government elected to ignore anyone except themselves and use a really big hammer to crack what now looks like a pretty small nut.

I don't have the inclination to look this up but IIRC the cost of setting up IR35 in the first place was between 100 and 200 million quid (then there is the annual upkeep costs) - even if you think every contractor is a thieving scrote you have to accept that any system that is solely designed to raise revenue (or prevent the loss of revenue) but itself costs orders of magnitude more than the revenue raised/recovered should be scrapped immediately along with sackings and apologies from those responsible.

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@Lee

There are proper contractors and there is disguised employment.

Unless its for a specific project, if you work at the same place for over a year doing the same hours as the permie with pretty much similar conditions, you are a disguised employee trying to dodge tax.

If you are a temp or have multiple clients you service as and when, etc, then you are a contractor.

IR35 was a sledgehammer to crack a nut, but lets not kid ourselves and claim people were not tax dodgers. Lots weren't, but lots were. The dodgers ruined it for everyone else.

I see that a lot of readers are tax dodgers too, looking at the vote down posts.

Shame on you lot, do you steal wifi and dole too?

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FAIL

B*ll*ks.

If it was a tax-avoidance measure aimed at 'disguised employees', it would apply to footballers, medical consultants, certain TV presenters and some MPs- all of whom are one-man Ltd Co for Tax Avoidance purposes. And it would recover a shitload more money than this woeful excuse for ignorance.

If you're not a troll, then you are so full of sh1t you could contract as bucket.

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Er. but

"IR35 stopped tax avoidance"

Problem is, it didn't. It introduced a lot of red tape that was avoidable. Hence PCG's comments about the huge shortfall in expected income.

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All IR35 and the more recent legislation did

Was mean that everybody who was previously using a managed service company had to move into either an umbrella company, or start their own limited company.

In effect, HMRC split the issue from a few MSCs that they could track into thousands of individual limited companies where they have lost all control. Nobody in general actually adheres to the IR35 rules, and still use quarterly dividends to reduce the tax burden, as you get a tax-free allowance on the first £20k(? - I forget the amount). You also need to employ this approach, as you need to be able to still pay yourself if the company isn't bringing in money - divendends are effectively a bonus for staying employed. People mostly do however pay themselves a fair wage rather than minimum these days, to avoid the glare of the government.

There does need to be a general review, as IR35 simply isn't working and the majority of contractors are working outside of the law. It's just so endemic that the HMRC is currently powerless to bring everybody to court due to the scale of the issue, ironically fueled by their decision to disband the MSCs.

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£9.2 million raised?

Of the 30 or so IT contractors I know and have worked with, only 1 of them pays tax according to IR35. The rest have carried on as before, believing they are IR35 exempt because of a substitution clause which isn't even at the sole discretion of themselves. It's no surprise so little money has been raised by the scheme! Not to mention how much the Inland Revenue has probably spent on lengthy and often unsuccessful tax disputes.

Irrespective of whether IR35 was fair or not, the scope of whom it should encompass was poorly defined and has consequently proven hard to enforce. Gordon Brown's more recent changes to the tax system focussed on 'small businesses' are at least based on simple thresholds and offsets that aren't open to interpretation. Although in doing so, I think he's targeted more than just freelancers and contractors.

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Pint

IR35 - a typical Labour pig's ear

To the permie wingers who think that IR35 is only fair, it should be pointed out that those contractors who are running genuine businesses pay corporation tax in addition to income tax and NI contributions. If the treasury had genuinely wanted to tighten up on avoidance, then they should have applied NI to ALL UK dividends. That would have been both fair and transparent (although politically unpalatable). With IR35 all we get is uncertainty - are we, are we not liable? May be, may be not, is the reply. Those that came up with the scheme should be sacked (or shot, or both).

It's enough to drive one to drink ...

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Anonymous Coward

@AC 11:22

"They were not avoiding tax and did not avoid tax. Tax was payable at the normal rate on salary or dividends."

Ball hooks. I know plenty of contractors and was one myself for a while.

Many pushed through everything they could to claim tax back.

Bought a new laptop? Bought by your pseudo company tax free.

New car? Bought by your company, tax free. Petrol and lunches? Claim your tax back with the right bit of paperwork. My mate got receipts down the pub for entertaining me as a potential customer.

Why bother doing it if you weren't trying to fiddle more money out the system?

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Anonymous Coward

IR35 is bureacratic

it just creates more paper pushing, non productive jobs, frankly it wastes tax money, and hampers productivity thereby reducing standard of living for all.

And those moaning about others not paying tax, well do the same then. If there was no taxation money they would find it hard to enforce tax at all. Taxation is like paying to be a slave and paying for others to be slaves. It is bizarre, there is no moral high ground to be had from paying taxes.

The reason people pay taxes is out of fear, and threats of incarceration and torture, what the tax money buys are just plays on those themes.

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Anonymous Coward

"IR35 stopped tax avoidance"

No. It made it harder for real small businesses to get by.

Many contractors with fake companies created to fiddle tax continued. It cost them less to be IR35 compliant than becoming staff and paying tax

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Anonymous Coward

Really you don't understand do you?

It made no difference to tax, purely National Insurance contributions.

Even when income is/was taken as dividends it is taxable ...... if you must comment at least understand what it was that it set out to do and what the actual tax rules are.

The actual thing to understand is that it was avoidance not evasion, there is a bit difference and every man and his dog will do all they can to avoid tax. No rules were broken.

Contractors were and are often seen as an easy target for permies, who just see the headline hourly rate and fail to understand no sick leave, no holidays, no redundancy, no rights, no pension and additional expense. If people actually looked at the figures in the cold light of day its probably there isn't a vast amount of difference to what those people could earn in a permanent job. it just suits them to have the flexibility and interest of changing jobs regularly and for the businesses that contract them to have short term resource when required, equally without commitment.

Anyone can contract so I don't understand why people have a problem, if you think its so easy and so well paid what's stopping you doing it? If you did I'm sure you'd avoid paying tax too!

The simplest answer in my mind would be to scrap National Insurance (and road tax and tv licenses and all the rest of the crap thus cutting loads of red tape and AVOIDANCE) and simply pay income tax.

I have worked as both a permie and contractor, IR35 didn't kill me off, I just decided I was sick of all the travel so set up a an IT business I can run from home and I can now reduce my NI just as I could before IR35.

Nowt was changed by this law, just a few thousand people were targeted whilst the same people who passed the laws use every ruse under the sun to pay no tax at all and claim 1000's in tax free expenses. Thats a thought perhaps I'll give up IT and run for election.

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IR35 is unfair, unworkable and increasing the cost for IT contractors

I am currently a permie as I found IR35 increased my risks, paperwork and costs. I now pay the government less in tax than I did as a contractor.

A contractor has to pay for liability insurance and training:

They also get none of the following benefits:

holiday, pension, sick pay, paternity leave, redundancy pay or medical cover and are on as little as one days notice.

Trying to treat them as permanent employees is not reasonable. Most are hard working professional individuals trying to make a living as entrepreneurs who accept the risks but expect some benefits.

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Where is the line?

#1 - One-man band contractor, minimum wage, long term contracts, etc.

#2 - As above, but employs one other contractor doing similar contracts.

#3 - Same again, but with 2 employees.

....

....

#98 - The likes of EDS, Capita etc.

Where does it become OK to avoid tax in this way ?

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Anonymous Coward

erk

>"IR35 stopped tax avoidance"

Well, I'm not trying to blow the trumpet for the PCG, but they made a FOI request which showed that IR35 had made a grand total of 9 million quid since it's introduction. Yes, million, not billion. Total waste of everyone's time, as it probably cost a lot more to set up and chase people for it.

>Tories may scrap IR35 tax rules for contractors

Almost makes me tempted to vote for the lying, cheating, rail-privatising, constituent-ignoring, Sven-Goran lookalike weasel who is my current MP and very likely to be the Tory candidate. But I'm sure that temptation will fade after reading the next round of timetable "improvements".

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Anonymous Coward

Whoever you vote for the government gets in power

Rather than your lying, cheating, rail-privatising, constituent-ignoring, Sven-Goran lookalike weasel would you prefer a lying, cheating, post-office-privatising, constituent-ignoring, authoritarian, war-morngering, standards lowering, bureaucratic, debt increasing, benefits-class sub-culture propagating, actual weasel as your MP?

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