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IR35 – a slap in the face? Well, no, not really

IR35 – a slap in the face? Well, no, not really

My blog for June last year was commenting on the first budget of the new Coalition government. It got a cautious welcome from me – which they no doubt appreciated greatly – and while the overall news wasn’t that wonderful, it at least looked like things were heading in the right direction.

I also mentioned an entry in the Red Book that “was a clear commitment to look hard at IR35. This was backed up by an interview in the Telegraph, where Mark Prisk emphasised the intention to lose IR35 altogether“. On that score for this budget, I have to say close, but no banana.

The Office of Tax Simplification made three suggestions for Mr Osborne; merge PAYE and NICs, either suspend IR35 or greatly improve how it is administered and maybe look at some tests to define who is employed and who is a freelance. Those of us in the “IR35 is the spawn of the devil” camp clearly hoped that suspension would be the result. Sadly, however, it was not to be; IR35 remains in place.

So a bit of a disaster then? Well, no, not really.

Firstly I’m inclined to believe Osborne and Gauke when they say that they could not afford to turn off IR35. Elsewhere in the Budget they confirmed the December 9th announcement regarding the closure of offshore EBTs that are being used to step around paying any taxes at all by many high earners. Without IR35, these guys would simply incorporate and go back to the same old job as a pretend freelance: the classic Friday-to-Monday soft shoe shuffle. With IR35 still there, they can still incorporate if they really want to, but the tax advantage would simply not be worthwhile. Which makes a degree of sense as far as I’m concerned.

Secondly, administration of IR35 is to be improved (I was going to say “greatly improved”, but it could hardly get any worse!). In other words, stop spending tens of thousands on five-year cases that invariably lose and focus instead on the ones where there may be a genuine case to answer – which, on current numbers, is about 3% of them. HMRC aren’t doing this by themselves, they will be talking to the experts on contracting who will be very clear that the net will be focused and not widened. HMG have invited PCG to be a key player in this, and for one I’m reasonably certain PCG won’t let anything through HMRC’s clutches that makes things worse for the genuine freelance.

Finally Osborne is now looking to merge PAYE and NICs. As I said last week this is a very difficult thing to achieve, but at least we have a chancellor willing to take it on. That means that if this can be made to happen, IR35 ceases to have any purpose anyway

The rest of the budget was, I thought, probably about as good as it could be given the starting position. OK, so Osborne has done a smoke and mirrors job by changing how inflation is measured and people who understand the Oil and Gas industry far better than I do are seriously dischuffed about the raid on their profits to fund the fuel equaliser, but the intent is sound.

So not the result we hoped for, nor even the result we would have quite liked, but at least we are still in there and having a direct say on how we are to be taxed. This is, despite the cries of outrage from the hard of thinking, no small achievement. PCG and Chairman Chris Bryce have done a seriously significant piece of work via the OTS and should be praised for it.

About the author: Alan Watts

Alan has worked in IT for most of the last 35 years, and first went freelance in 1996. He has been a PCG member from its start and has been spreading the message that freelancing is a professional career choice for many years. Alan also runs Malvolio’s Blog, a personal but highly informative take on the life of the modern freelance.

Alan Watts, Principal Consultant, LPW Computer Services

© 2011 All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited<

Image: The Small Hand that Kills (41th/52) by skippyjon

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