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Employee, Self-employed or Worker? The 705 million pound question...

Posted on 25 May 2017 by Alexis Outram - What's trending?

Employment status

It has been announced recently that the HMRC have collected an additional £705 million over the last year from companies who have underpaid payroll taxes. Much of this underpaid tax relates to the misinterpretation of workers' employment status and the subsequent tax implications. In light of this, the question many employers are now asking is, what is the true employment status of my workforce?

The HMRC crackdown on payroll taxes has allowed them to collect an additional £322 million from SMEs and £383 million from large businesses over the last year. The crackdown has been part of an effort to tackle tax avoidance by businesses using ‘disguised self-employment’ or other possible abuses of the tax system that applies to contract workers.

A common issue highlighted by HMRC relates to paying expenses for workers placed with a third party or client business; for example, IT contractors engaged in building a new IT infrastructure for a corporate client. Whilst it is legitimate practice to pay travel and subsistence for skilled employees who are placed with clients to complete a particular project before moving them onto another placement, the HMRC found that some companies were taking on employees, placing them at a client, then terminating their employment once the project was finished. In these cases, current tax law does not class the placement as a ‘temporary workplace’, and therefore any payment for travelling to work or reimbursement for hotel costs should be taxed.

Whilst this distinction between temporary workplace and the normal workplace is one pitfall that employers face, there are a number of complexities within the tax system that can catch out unwary employers and result in an unexpected tax bill.

Another risk to employers associated with the status of the workforce is employment rights. Employees have different rights to workers, who in turn have different rights to self-employed workers. If an employer fails to observe and apply the appropriate rights, the risks include:

  • Pension liabilities and penalties
  • Tribunal claims for failure to make statutory payments
  • Underpayment of National Minimum Wage, potentially leading to criminal sanctions

All employers should consider the status of their workers carefully to ensure compliance with the law. Guidance is available from the Government website.

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