IR35 Legislation: Its Impact on Contractors and Freelancers

11 Jul 2023

The UK tax landscape is ever-changing, with regular reforms designed to streamline operations, bolster compliance, and ensure the equitable distribution of national revenue. One significant development is the IR35 legislation, a rule set by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) that has profound implications for contractors and freelancers working through an intermediary like a limited company or partnership.

Understanding IR35 Legislation

Formally known as the Intermediaries Legislation, IR35 is a piece of tax legislation designed to tackle ‘disguised employment’ – a situation where a contractor is, in effect, an employee but works through an intermediary to pay less tax. The rules, first introduced in 2000, underwent significant changes in 2017 for the public sector, and more recently in April 2021 for medium and large-sized private sector businesses. More details can be found here.

In essence, IR35 seeks to determine whether a contractor is genuinely self-employed or essentially ‘off-payroll’ employees, thereby providing an even playing field in the taxing of contractors and traditional employees.

The Impact on Contractors and Freelancers

If a contract is deemed ‘inside IR35’, the worker is considered an employee for tax purposes and will be subject to Income Tax and National Insurance Contributions (NICs) at similar rates to regular employment. If it’s ‘outside IR35’, the worker can take advantage of the tax efficiencies of working through a limited company.

Therefore, for contractors and freelancers, the main impact of IR35 is potential changes to their tax liability. For example, let’s consider a contractor earning £60,000 per annum through their limited company. If their contract is outside IR35, they might pay around £13,000 in tax and NICs. However, if the same contract falls inside IR35, their tax and NICs liability could increase significantly, to around £22,000.

Determining IR35 Status

Determining whether a contract is inside or outside IR35 isn’t a straightforward task. HMRC examines several factors, including control, substitution, and mutuality of obligation. Essentially, if a contractor operates similarly to an employee, the contract is likely to be inside IR35. The HMRC Check Employment Status for Tax (CEST) tool is available to help businesses navigate this complex issue.

However, businesses must be aware that an incorrect determination can lead to substantial penalties. Take, for instance, the landmark case of Christa Ackroyd, a BBC presenter who faced a tax bill of £419,151 for incorrectly determining her IR35 status.

How Can Businesses Respond?

Navigating the complex landscape of IR35 legislation can be daunting, particularly given the potential financial implications of incorrect determinations. Consequently, businesses should consider engaging professional advice to review contracts and working practices, ensuring compliance with the rules.

As a result of IR35, some businesses may see a shift towards more permanent employment or the use of umbrella companies. However, with careful planning and consideration, contractors and freelancers can continue to be an integral part of the business landscape. 

IR35 is not an area businesses can afford to overlook. By staying informed and taking proactive steps to manage compliance, companies can ensure they are prepared for this significant tax legislation.