“Death, taxes and childbirth! There’s never any convenient time for any of them.” ― Margaret Mitchell, Gone with the Wind

Blog updated in April 2020

This blog was first published in October 2020 but since then the world has changed considerably. You may have noticed this as you read these words from your home office. One consequence of the current situation is that the government has announced that the extension of the IR35 reforms to the private sector will now not come into force until April 2021. However, as I’ll explain here, it is still vital to act now - and help is at hand.

As reported in October 2019 in Computer Weekly, Lloyds Banking Group was the latest organisation to phase out its use of contractors who engage with the firm via personal service companies, in preparation for the IR35 tax reforms being extended to the private sector.

IR35 describes two sets of tax legislation that are designed to combat tax avoidance by workers and the firms hiring them – those who are supplying their services to clients via an intermediary, such as a limited company, but who would be an employee if the intermediary were not used.

Under the reforms, medium-to-large private-sector organisations will take responsibility for determining whether the contractors they engage with should be taxed in the same way as salaried employees. At the moment, it is down to contractors to self-declare how they think they should be taxed. Importantly, following the change the hiring organisation will be liable for any mistakes, potentially incurring massive retrospective tax bills (think PAYE plus NI).

The new rules come into effect in April 2021 but Lloyds, similar to Barclays, Morgan Stanley and HSBC (to name a small few) has recognised that the problem needs to be addressed immediately, and importantly have not changed their stance as a result of the government’s change in legislation. Many organisations have recognised that having actioned their plans for April 2020 before the government rethink, there is little point unwinding these simply to repeat them again in a few months’ time.

It is reported that contractors currently working at Lloyds have been asked if they would like to leave, become permanent employees or continue working at the firm through umbrella companies. This is the choice facing 1,000s of contractors across the country, and although it is anticipated that many will take the option of permanent work, this does not provide an adequate solution for organisations like Lloyds to manage peaks in demand. There is a limit to the level of permanent headcount organisations are willing to onboard, and when the reforms hit the public sector in 2017, some departments lost up to 40% of their contractors.

The alternatives are limited. Like Lloyds, organisations may offer contractors the opportunity to work through umbrella companies, but this is unlikely to be an attractive option for many consultants, offering a lower net income whilst not providing adequate employee security and benefits. It is clear therefore that many will have to rethink their resourcing options. Of course, the lockdown resulting from COVID-19 creates added complications: even if you ignore the IR35 issue there is still the seemingly impossible challenge of onboarding new contractors remotely.

The natural alternative is to use professional service companies but the paradox here is that the majority achieve flexibility within their own workforce using contractors in the same way and are subject to the same challenges. It will be interesting to see how they respond.

Whilst the new rules are deemed unfair by some, being described in itcontracting magazine as “the tax war on professional contractors”, we at Scott Logic welcome the change.

We find ourselves ideally placed; over the last 15 years we have prided ourselves in our investment in our own people. Our UK-based workforce are all permanent employees and are therefore unaffected by the new rules. Furthermore, remote working is in our DNA and therefore we can still quickly stand-up and onboard new teams. We will continue to provide the professional level of service our clients have come to rely on throughout the COVID crisis.