Thinking of contracting or freelancing? Which trading model is right for you?

Limited, Umbrella or Sole Trader?

Are you thinking about making the move away from permanent employment to set up as a contractor? Sole Trader, an Umbrella or Limited Company? What’s the difference and which is best for you?

Read this blog to get to know your choices, then download our comprehensive guide to help you weigh up:

  • the things you need to consider
  • your options
  • the associated advantages and disadvantages
  • next steps.

Or give us a call on 01202 375 491 to chat through your options.


Why bother?

With the country’s top contractors reportedly earning around three times the average UK wage, why aren’t all permanent staff taking the leap into contracting? One reason may be the confusion surrounding available options. Our following example shows you how the options can affect a professional who is considering leaving permanent employment, and how certain factors can determine what is the right path for him to take.


Meet Peter

Peter works in IT and has been a permanent employee for 15 years. A few of his friends have recently told him about the benefits of moving away from permanent employment, and naturally Peter is curious, but unsure of his options. A friend advises him that he needs to establish if he should be a freelancer or contractor and how he will operate: as a Sole Trader; under an Umbrella; or as a Limited Company. These decisions are important, as they will have an effect on how he will pay the relevant tax due to HMRC in the future. What is right for Peter’s friend may not be right for Peter’s personal circumstances so he needs to make sure he is clear on what his options are.

So let’s take a look at each, and which solution will work best for Peter:

Freelancer or contractor?


While researching the marketplace, Peter finds a number of ad hoc jobs which are task-specific, and would not be extended once the work has been completed. For a number of these jobs he could complete them either in the client’s workplace, or from his home office. He could take on as many jobs as he likes from numerous clients, simultaneously, charging an hourly rate.

In this instance Peter would be a freelancer – an option popular among consultants, creatives and journalists.


Peter continues researching the market and finds work with a third party employer, whom he will work for exclusively for a fixed period of time. He will be paid a daily rate, and travel to the office each day to work a set number of hours. The contract can end or be extended at any point, and Peter could expect to earn approximately £600 per day.

As Peter will solely be working for this one client for the duration of the contract, he would be considered to be a contractor.

As Peter works in IT, being a contractor is a more viable option for him.

Now Peter has established what type of worker he is, he needs to select the right trading model for his situation.

Sole Trader vs Umbrella vs Limited Company

Peter now needs to decide how he is going to operate: as a Sole Trader; under an Umbrella; or as a Limited Company. These are the three most popular options for for knowledge-based, highly skilled workers earning well above the National Minimum Wage but are dependent on what solution suits an individual best, their daily rate and how they wish to operate:

Sole Trader: is a person who wishes to be the exclusive owner of the business, and is therefore entitled to keep all profits, after tax. A freelancer traditionally would consider themselves to be a Sole Trader, or self-employed. They are also liable for all losses so if the contracting business gets into financial trouble, the Sole Trader is personally liable and their private assets could be at risk. It is unlikely that an agency would take him on this basis and very few clients would allow this model so it is therefore impractical. For this reason being a Sole Trader isn’t the best option for Peter.

Umbrella: is a company which acts, for a fee, as an employer for a contractor who will have an agreed fixed-term contract. Traditionally contractors earning less than £30,000pa or who are new to contracting and are just dipping their toe in the water to see if it is the right option for them, are recommended to consider using an Umbrella company. Intouch do not offer Umbrella services, so we suggest carefully researching compliant companies offering this service and choosing one based on your personal preferences and requirements.

If Peter was earning less than the £30,000pa (on average £125 per day) or didn’t want the added responsibilities which come with running a Limited Company, then an Umbrella company solution would be best for him. He should also consider working under an Umbrella if contracting is just a short-term option for him and he doesn’t anticipate it lasting for more that 6-9 months in total.  But, as Peter is in this for the long-haul and charges a higher daily rate, he is confident he can run his own company.

Limited Company: is for a contractor or freelancer who is earning on average over £30,000pa. This is just a guide and setting up as a Limited Company can also potentially benefit those expecting to earn less than £20,000 in some cases, so if this applies check with a professional contractor accountant to ensure you get the best advice and choose the right option for you.

A Limited Company ultimately allows a contractor to take the highest rate of take-home pay and be your own boss, but there are a number of considerations and responsibilities which must first be explored, and subsequently be adhered to. Engaging the services of a reputable contractor accountant means that they should guide Peter from the offset so he is fully aware of his responsibilities and obligations. The added benefit is that often the tax savings realised with the advice of a contractor accountant out-weigh the costs as professional fees are tax deductible and, of course, Umbrella companies also charge a fee or percentage for their services (which is often more expensive). If, as expected,  Peter will earn £600 a day as a contractor, and is comfortable with the responsibilities, then he would be better suited to set up his own Limited Company. Using our free take home pay calculator Peter can compare take home pay based on several stated assumptions. He can input his personal contract income and contractor expenses to instantly see the difference being Limited makes.

There are other things to consider, from creating a company name and formation, to setting up a business bank account but working with a specialist contractor accountant such as Intouch Accounting means a lot of that is taken care of as part of our fixed monthly fee.

So once Peter has made his mind up about which solution works best for him and how he will operate, he is ready to make the move!

What’s next for you?

To help you think through your options we have written a new guide for contractors and freelancers: Limited Company, Umbrella, or Sole Trader – which is the right choice for you? available for you to download now.

Or contact us for a no obligation discussion to work through your options.

Intouch can help you

If the prospect of going contracting is still daunting and you are not sure where to go from here, or just need a chat with one of our experts, give us a call on 01202 375491  and we will happily discuss your situation and options with you. We are renowned with our existing clients for our dedicated service and account management, and we’re happy to take your call and assist you on this exciting new venture!

Call 01202 375 491


Download our guide


This blog has been prepared by Intouch Accounting. While we have made every attempt to ensure that the information contained in this blog has been obtained from reliable sources, Intouch is not responsible for any errors or omissions, or for the results obtained from the use of this information. This blog should not be used as a substitute for consultation with professional accounting advisers. If you have any specific queries, please contact Intouch Accounting.

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Unlimited shades of grey as HMRC closes in on IR35 abusers

HMRC closes in on IR35 abusers

As the post-Summer Budget dust starts to settle, there is a hotly debated topic still keeping contractors awake at night. Last week I started to look at the proposed changes to dividend tax, which form part of a series of wider reforms to the Intermediaries Legislation, commonly known as IR35.

The publication of HMRC’s IR35 discussion document in July has triggered a growing sense of unease amongst the contractor community. The big concern is that these latest attempts to achieve clarity will only serve to move the onus of declaring a worker’s status from the worker themselves, to the reluctant client.

The story so far

In order to get on board with the so-called “Rationale for Change”, it is important to first understand the current situation…

Under the current ways of trading with a client, self-employed workers have been able to use employment intermediaries such as Umbrella companies, employment businesses and Personal Service Companies (PSCs) as a way to reduce their tax and National Insurance payments.

As a result, people pay different levels of tax depending on whether they are employees, self-employed, or work through their own Limited Company.

An example of this is a contractor being able to claim tax relief for travel and subsistence costs to and from their usual place of work, whereas an employed worker doing exactly the same job would have to grin and bear it with no tax reliew for themselves. It is this disparity that the Chancellor, George Osborne, wants to even out.

Who is at risk?

Most contractors are operating fairly and squarely through these employment intermediaries and have legitimate and justifiable reasons for working through a Limited Company, such a the protection of limited liability, greater flexibility and long-term planning options. However, some are taking unfair advantage of the system and it is these “abusers” that the Chancellor has set his sights on catching.

In my view, anything that helps police the industry more effectively and “level the playing field” so it is fair to all, is a good thing. By tightening the noose on IR35 abusers, the Chancellor is paving the way for legitimate PSCs to get on with what they do best and being recognised for the valuable contribution they make to the UK’s flexible workforce.

Understandably the fear is that, rather like trawling the ocean to catch a few naughty fish hiding in the shadows, many compliant businesses will be caught up in the new measures designed to better fill the Treasury’s coffers. The other contentious matter is introducing the concept of “fairness” to a moral and ethical debate. How can ‘fair’ be anything other than subjective?

As you can see, the situation is not as clear cut as HMRC would like us to think. The Treasury’s promise to the Chancellor that the IR35 reforms could help raise an additional £430 million is, in the view of many commentators, unrealistic.

There may be trouble ahead

A key flaw in the discussion document’s suggestion is the proposal of putting the responsibility of assessing a contractor’s IR35 status onto the engager. This is likely to cause a serious headache for UK employers. Why does HMRC think engagers will be any more accurate in doing this than the worker, unless it is accompanied by transfer of debt provisions?

To me, this is where the reforms start to unravel. Is the tax man seriously expecting people to put up their hands and declare, “I am Spartacus!”?

The current guidance for identifying “supervision, direction or control” [see ESM2029 for examples] to help assess the worker’s tax status is, in itself, entirely based on hypothetical examples and open to misinterpretation in the real world. This is a subject I will be exploring in more detail on the Intouch blog over the coming weeks.

The constant challenge for HMRC is deciding who should, or should not, be either side of the IR35 dividing line. In an ideal world, HMRC would like to make every PSC worker or self-employed contractor fit in a neat little box and put the onus on the engager to determine where they slot in on the compliancy scale.

After reading the discussion document, you would be forgiven for thinking that every individual case is easy to assess. The case study examples are so clear cut and unrealistic it’s almost caricature.

For as we know, the reality of whether IR35 applies or not is anything but black and white. In fact, there are so many shades of grey in between that there are almost unlimited ways to argue the situation.

This is why HMRC has struggled to enforce legislation in the past. So although its good intentions are to be supported, viewing the current landscape through an oversimplified lens and merely playing around with subjective rules is unlikely to improve effectiveness of the current legislation.

To make a real difference, HMRC needs a system that sorts the wheat from the chaff, and can identify abusers based on something other than gut feel. They should not be scared of rapid expansion in a modern method of working just because the Treasury would be better off if we were all permanent employees.

I have no doubt HMRC recognises and accepts the reality of this deeply complex issue and wants to develop solutions that work within the grey areas as well as the black and white ones. The discussion document asks for help and, as stakeholders, we must respond responsibly and impartially. It is still better for Spartacus to identify himself rather than letting the soldiers of HMRC do it.

There’s no doubt the industry faces change ahead. But rather than hiding away, now is the time to fasten your seatbelt and talk to your accountant about what changes you might need to put in place to reinforce best practice standards and compliancy.

If you haven’t already, I recommend anyone who suspects they might be affected by the changes should read HMRC’s Intermediaries Legislation (IR35): discussion document or speak to your trade body and get involved in the conversation while you still have a chance to make a difference.

At Intouch our priority over the weeks and months leading up to next April is to advise and support our clients making the correct decision on their IR35 status.

If you are concerned about the proposed IR35 reforms or your compliancy position, give our team of expert contractor accountants a call on 01202 375491 and let Intouch make this complex issue a simple one to resolve.


This blog has been prepared by Intouch Accounting. While we have made every attempt to ensure that the information contained in this blog has been obtained from reliable sources, Intouch is not responsible for any errors or omissions, or for the results obtained from the use of this information. This blog should not be used as a substitute for consultation with professional accounting advisers. If you have any specific queries, please contact Intouch Accounting.

Owner managed business – From OMB to OMG

Owner managed business

Starting with an idea and an opportunity for a new business in January, I set up my first Owner Managed Business (OMB). I had no staff, no customers, no processes and nothing to sell but the idea of establishing a specialist contractor accountancy business in to an already competitive market.

The irony is that this business concentrates exclusively on clients who are themselves OMBs. Literally they are consultants and freelancers selling their skills via “one -man” Limited Companies. From day one we had things in common-this was challenging and fun at the same time.

Opportunity and good fortune in 2009 led me to a talented and ambitious individual with experience of this sector.  We named the business Intouch Accounting (Clare Rickman’s idea) and will follow this mantra of being and staying in touch with our clients….. Two of us set out on our journey in February 2010 and the initial hurdles took the OMB and mixed it with emotions of OMG…..


This blog has been prepared by Intouch Accounting. While we have made every attempt to ensure that the information contained in this blog has been obtained from reliable sources, Intouch is not responsible for any errors or omissions, or for the results obtained from the use of this information. This blog should not be used as a substitute for consultation with professional accounting advisers. If you have any specific queries, please contact Intouch Accounting.