Public Sector Bodies and Freelancers and IR35

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On Saturday 21 Jan 2017 the National Audit Office in Victoria opened its doors to a range of geeks and devotees, both within and beyond Government, for the now annual unconference called UKGovCamp. This one was special, the 10th event, and there was a considerable buzz among the 220 participants.

Somehow, my session ended up in a very early slot (one of eight concurrent streams) and a small, intense discussion of IR35 took place.

This is an extremely complex subject. I have recently concluded an IR35 enquiry for a client. It took over 4 years and we won. One firm in Bristol who specialise in IR35 enquiries proudly claim to have won 1,498 out of 1,500 cases they’ve worked on. At the moment I’m happy with “played one, won one” and a tentative claim to a 100% success rate! HMRC are (allegedly) working 600 cases per year, and that’s as much as they can do with the staff at that section.

Anyway, you cannot rely on one session from UKGovcamp, nor this one blogpost, to tell you the full story. And every case is different so you need to get specialist advice. What I am going to focus on here is the changes which are due for 6 Apr 2017 and which relate to freelancers who work in Public Sector Bodies.

The Scales of Justice

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The law on this comes from two pieces of legislation:

These rules are collectively known as “IR35” because that was the number of the 1999 press release which foretold this nightmare.

The relevant bits that you need are sections 48 to 61 of ITEPA and all of the Social Security Regs (fortunately that has only 11 sections). The most salient detail is to be found at s49 of ITEPA and s6 of the Social Security Regs. The dialogue is almost identical in each piece of legislation, and I will explain the subtle difference later on. For now, you just need to read the rules below and where it says “intermediary” think “freelance limited company”.

The bullet points

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Here’s what you need from the Social Security Regs:

6–(1) These Regulations apply where–

(a) an individual (“the worker”) personally performs, or is under an obligation personally to perform, services for the purposes of a business carried on by another person (“the client”),

(b) the performance of those services by the worker is carried out, not under a contract directly between the client and the worker, but under arrangements involving an intermediary, and

(c) the circumstances are such that, had the arrangements taken the form of a contract between the worker and the client, the worker would be regarded for the purposes of Parts I to V of the Contributions and Benefits Act as employed in employed earner’s employment by the client .

The Case Law

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It’s sub section (c) above about “the circumstances” which leads to the inevitable debate about whether a freelancer is truly freelance or is in “disguised employment” and is caught by the IR35 rules.

The most poignant piece of case law which helps us interpret sub section (c) is:

  • Ready Mixed Concrete(South East) Ltd v Minister of Pensions and National Insurance 1968

This case came out in favour of the worker who was truly freelance, and in his judgement Justice MacKenna set out three tests of how we are to decide if somebody is an employee or not. The three tests in the Ready Mix case can be summarised as . . .

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