Categorized | alan's blog, ir35 rules

Ask me no questions

Ask me no questions

You may recall I wrote last week about there being an apparent majority of recruitment consultants who don’t actually know what they’re doing, much less understand what (or rather who) it is they’re selling, Sadly that also seems to be true of contractors themselves.

Now obviously I don’t mean the things they know about their chosen field; if you aren’t pretty damned good at what you do you won’t last long as a freelance after all. Clients hire freelances to add instant value and high levels of expertise at the drop of a hat (or a well-written contract, anyway) and I’ve met very few indeed who don’t deliver exactly that.

No, I’m talking about the other side of the freelance business, running the business itself.

Perhaps I’m biased since I’ve been doing this for quite a while now, but I am continually surprised at the kinds of questions you keep being asked. It’s not like the information isn’t out there. If you can’t face trawling through the HMRC labyrinth to find things – which is something I try to avoid as much as possible – there are many very good and authoritative guides on the web, not least the PCG’s Guide to Freelancing. So why don’t people read them?

For example, in the last week I’ve seen examples of all five of the obligatory dumb questions…

The “My accountant can’t count” question. Someone who has painstakingly worked out his taxes and thinks he should be getting more than his accountant says he should. Usually they’ve either forgotten something trivial, like Employer NICs, or they’ve got the basic arithmetic wrong. That’s why you use accountants, so why try and double guess them?

The “Why is my accountant so expensive” question. These are the guys who begrudge paying a tiny percentage of their gross for a professional service. Try as you might, you will never persuade them that if an accountant actually costs you money, get a new one. He’s there to make sure you get the best return on your gross after all. Unless you tell him to do something totally silly of course.

The “How can I get to keep 95% of my gross” question. Limited to those who have either fallen for the sales blurb or don’t actually think living and working in the UK means you have to pay UK taxes (aka “Doing a Green”…)

The “A contract is just a piece of paper” question. The guy who’s signed up to a contract but then discovers he hasn’t got a notice period (which is a good thing, by the way, not that they’ll believe you about that) or has to carry PI insurance or something else he doesn’t like. Followed by plaintive cries of “What if I simply don’t bother, will the agency put a hit man on to me”. If it’s in the contract and you signed it, it’s legally binding; why is that so hard to understand? Try reading and negotiating before you sign it next time

And finally the “What expenses can I claim” question. Comes in many forms this one. Why can’t I claim travel after 24 months (you can, it’s just that it’s taxable). Can I have a 52” plasma screen monitor for my laptop (sadly it’s too big for the study, I’ll just have to keep it in the living room). And so on..

And why does this suddenly matter? Blame IR35, as usual.

If, as seems increasingly likely, whatever replaces it is based on proving you’re in business – just like Dim Prawn always said was the case (and then promptly forgot about saying it) – then understanding the rules of business would seem to be a pretty good starter for ten.

Which means, sadly, having to ask questions…

Alan Watts can found at LinkedIn.
© 2010 All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.

Image: The Questioning Roboto by matt.hutchinson

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