Breaking news! Does today’s Autumn Statement harm or help Limited Company contractors?
Philip Hammond today delivered his first Autumn Statement as Chancellor of the Exchequer (and his last). He and the Prime Minister continue to compete for control of economic policy and are arm wrestling for the “glory sound bites”. Unless they get on the same page, the losers of this Pyrrhic victory will be you and I.
Famous for ill-conceived strategies implemented at a dangerous pace in the face of universal criticism, and ignoring calls for caution from industry experts (who HMRC asked for advice in the first place), HMRC and the Treasury just keep ploughing their own furrow regarding the flexible workforce.
Today’s statement offered public sector contractors no surprise good news, and worse no reason for private sector contractors to be optimistic. HMRC’s vision for a level playing field between employees and the UK’s flexible workforce continues to be deployed in the face of all arguments to the contrary. Mr Hammond continues to imply that anyone who is not taxed under PAYE is a tax dodger, and that any independent worker wanting to trade as a Limited Company is only doing so for the tax benefit. I wonder if this is a real belief or a view necessary to keep his job in a post-Brexit, post-Trump world of pragmatic politics.
HMRC are JAM (“Just about managing”)
“Passing the buck” is now officially written within the Autumn Statement. When policing employment status compliance gets too tough for HMRC and they end up in a JAM, they outsource the problem to the public sector supply chain (only affecting public sector contractors) and ignore advice from stakeholders telling them it will not work!
It’s such a pity that the Chancellor refuses to accept that the positive contribution from a vibrant flexible workforce is widely recognised by stakeholders as essential to the prosperity and economic recovery of UK plc, and therefore dangerous to ignore.
“Hammond and May never listen” ( I sound like Jeremy Clarkson)
Throughout the summer HMRC have “consulted” Industry experts, Accountants, Business leaders, Trade Associations and even the man on the “Clapham omnibus” searching for views and comment on key topics including: IR35 reform in the Public sector, and Making Tax Digital.
I wish that I could understand why HMRC are not listening. A significant proportion of stakeholder responses on both consultations are consistently negative about:
- the unrealistic timetables being imposed
- the lack of attention to detail in the implementation guidance
- the absence of the digital tool for IR35 status assessment
- the administrative burden being outsourced from HMRC to employers, service providers and taxpayers in an attempt to reduce HMRC’s cost of delivery
- blanket self-justifications from HMRC of their own actions, which ignore the advice of the wider community and which do not stand up to intellectual scrutiny
There seems little evidence from today’s statement that smart people who work at HMRC are using their ears. A consultation process, which has merit in concept, becomes a waste of everyone’s time if consistent contributions from stakeholders across the UK are continually ignored.
So Mr Hammond let’s try it your way: Push on with the policy of forcing independent flexible workers in the public sector into a taxation straitjacket against their will, and against the will of the end hirers. Engagers (even public bodies) want control over the ease with which their business units can expand, they do not want to provide employment rights, and flexible workers are not asking for them. But to do that you will need to continue to vilify and call “tax dodgers” hardworking and proud independent workers, who are trying to put their family’s wellbeing ahead of their own.
Make sure that the public don’t work out that by passing the buck for determining Employment Status (because HMRC have failed to find a way to get it right) and by passing the costs of doing so on to the engager or supply chain, saves the Government plenty of cash (because I doubt you will ever find c£400m of “tax gap” that you’re looking for from contractors). Make sure also that the workers don’t blame you for the fact that their take home pay is being reduced, as the supply chain adjusts to protect its margins.
Proposals to remove abuse under existing flat rate VAT rules will follow in December and could affect the many innocent parties seeking fairness not abuse.
I am not saying that non-governmental stakeholders have exclusive access to crystal balls, but we do have ears and we use them more than you do. Your statement today affecting the contractor community is only as strong as your ability to get the implementation right. If I were to buy you and your colleagues at HMRC a Christmas present, it would be a large hearing aid. If you wanted to give independent contractors in the UK a Christmas present, just turn it on.
Want to know more?
Before the statement, we released our own set of predictions and wish lists on what we thought would happen and what we wanted to see announced. So were we correct? We will be sending out our full Autumn Statement review tomorrow, simply leave us your email address and we will ensure you are sent a copy.
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