IT contractors warned as HMRC draws on ‘IR35-adjacent’ guidelines in tax avoidance clampdown

HM Earnings & Customs (HMRC) stands accused of utilizing some IR35-adjacent guidelines to mount a tidy-scale tax snatch on IT contractors, which might well have pertaining to implications for the accountancy corporations that symbolize them.

The govttax sequence agency’s most up-to-date round of enforcement motion has considered the customers of at the least two accountancy corporations that specialize within the provision of products and services to restricted firm contractors hit with five-figure tax bills by HMRC. Among the accountancy corporations that HMRC is identified to have in its crosshairs are Potters Bar-primarily primarily based Churchill Knight & Mates. 

The firm confirmed to Computer Weekly that it is provocative HMRC’s actions in opposition to the firm and its purchasers, which stem from the whisper that Churchill Knight’s alternate operations fall defective of the anti-tax avoidance managed products and services firm (MSC) guidelines.

The MSC guidelines shares some similarities with HMRC’s IR35 guidelines, in that they are both geared in direction of clamping down on tax avoidance at some stage within the restricted firm contractor neighborhood by focusing on those who it claims must be treated as workers for tax functions. 

The MSC guidelines became as soon as offered in April 2007 to be definite that restricted firm contractors are in alternate on their possess chronicle, as Chris Maslin, founding father of Kent-primarily primarily based chartered tax advisory firm Maslins, region out in a most up-to-date LinkedIn put up about HMRC’s enforcement motion.

“There have always been hundreds puny, one-person restricted companies, [and around] 20 years within the past accountancy corporations started going above and beyond what an accountant would historically fabricate to scheme their purchasers’ lives more straightforward,” mentioned Maslin.

“They might danger invoices to purchasers on the contractor’s behalf, have write procure admission to to the contractor’s firm bank chronicle, rush up payments from purchasers, pay suppliers and – indeed – the contractor in my notion.

“The contractor became as soon as legally the alternate owner, but all of the contractor had to manufacture became as soon as the chargeable work. The accountant did every little thing else. They effectively ran the firm, with the contractor being the employee.”

Basically based on HMRC, accountancy corporations that behave on this map must be classified as managed service firm services (MSCPs), whereas the contractor companies they work with are described as being MSCs.

For the reason that MSCP is effectively running the contractor’s alternate for them, the contractor must be regarded as an employee of the accountant’s alternate and taxed as such, claims HMRC.

This kind the contractor must be accountable for Pay-As-You-Originate (PAYE) and Nationwide Insurance coverage Contributions, but – by participating in an MSCP setup – the contractors live far from this.

In total, though, restricted firm contractors pay themselves by drawing a sexy little taxable salary and scheme up the leisure of their earnings in decrease-taxed dividends. They’re also at probability of pay company tax.    

Within the wake of the MSC guidelines coming into power, many accountants “backed off” from working on this map, persevered Maslin, and restricted firm contractors acquired extra “arm’s-length assistance from their accountants” in its keep.

As consequence, the amount of accountants (and their purchasers) that is seemingly to be caught in scope of the guidelines fell, which capacity of the alternate in behaviour the guidelines bought about.

Nevertheless, it became as soon as no longer until 2019 that HMRC won its first case at the court of allure relating to the MSC guidelines, netting it tens of hundreds of kilos in unpaid tax which capacity.

HMRC will own about the guidelines as a astronomical different – and if the tax administrative heart wins one fundamental case, it might perchance maybe maybe region a precedent
Seb Maley, Ados

And it is that this success that many contractors and different alternate stakeholders cite because the motive HMRC is taking a nearer take a study the working relationships between contractors and their accountants now.

Talking to Computer Weekly, Seb Maley, CEO of IR35 compliance consultancy Qdos, mentioned: “HMRC believes it’ll salvage hundreds – even hundreds of contractors – in breach of the MSC guidelines by launching good one probe correct into a contractor accountant. HMRC will own about the guidelines as a astronomical different – and if the tax administrative heart wins one fundamental case, it might perchance maybe maybe region a precedent.

“Contractors are liable within the origin, without reference to whether or no longer they had been steered to work on this map by their accountant or no longer. In notion, any contractor who has engaged a specialist contractor accountant is at probability of being investigated below the MSC guidelines. This figure might well maybe without problems flee into millions.”

Computer Weekly has spoken to a handful of contractors who’ve acquired letters from HMRC telling them they owe tens of hundreds of kilos in unpaid tax because their working relationship with Churchill Knight marks them out as a MSC.

The MSC guidelines manner HMRC can goal tidy groups of contractors in a single fell swoop, which is much less labour-intensive than pursuing them individually by capacity of the IR35 guidelines, mentioned one contractor Computer Weekly, who spoke to on condition of anonymity.

“The manner that HMRC is taking now is its map of looking out for to procure those of us who’re working to this level open air of IR35, and compliantly, that we’re nearly about untouchable,” mentioned a contractor, who has acquired a tax invoice good insecure of £20,000 for the 2017/18 financial year.

Computer Weekly build the whisper to HMRC that it is leaning on the MSC guidelines to home tidy numbers of contractors who it is no longer going to attain via the IR35 guidelines, and acquired the next statement in response.

“Those that work esteem workers must pay tax esteem workers. The MSC guidelines prevent an middleman firm environment up a constructing that facilitates tax avoidance. We can bewitch motion the keep we uncover this form of constructing is being passe, to be definite that the fitting tax is paid,” a spokesperson for HMRC mentioned. “If anybody has a ask about any letter they were sent by us, we support them to procure in contact with us so we are able to study.”

Digging into the principle points of the MSC guidelines

HMRC’s definition of a MSCP is featured in Half 61B (1) Chapter 9, Phase 2 of the Earnings Tax Earnings and Pension Act (ITEPA).

It defines an MSCP as being an organisation that advantages financially on an ongoing foundation from products and services the contractor presents. These services also have the capability to keep an eye on and affect how those products and services are delivered, as nicely as how the contractor is paid for them.  

An MSCP also has affect and keep an eye on over the restricted firm contractor’s funds and promotes undertakings to scheme correct any tax loss.

An accountancy firm simplest wants to meet one allotment of the above definition to be regarded as in breach of the MSC guidelines, and – in turn – region off HMRC to ship out letters to contractors traumatic they repay the tax it claims they refrained from whereas working as an MSC.

HMRC is time-barred from taking enforcement motion in opposition to contractors after four years, which looks to be to be why its motion to this level has centered on chasing unpaid tax from contractors for the 2017/18 financial year.

Nevertheless, the contractors Computer Weekly has spoken to are unnerved that these first round of letters shall be adopted up within the kill with similar rate requires keeping extra most up-to-date financial years as nicely.

And this can consequence in some contractors being saddled with life-altering tax bills that they may be able to salvage no longer doable to pay, which might well have astronomical financial implications for the companies and kill-purchasers that seize them.

“The MSC guidelines poses a astronomical probability no longer good to contractor, but additionally their accountants, companies and even kill purchasers,” mentioned Maley. “Here is because if the contractor can’t pay – what in some cases is up to £50,000 for a single year – the criminal responsibility can switch up the provision chain.”

Computer Weekly has been equipped with a reproduction of the letter HMRC sent out to Churchill Knight’s contractor purchasers in early March 2022, telling them the amount they allegedly owe in unpaid tax.

The letter confirms contractors have the fitting to allure the contents of the letter within 30 days of it being despatched by HMRC, and they’d no longer must pay the amount HMRC claims they owe whereas the allure task is underway.  

Tom Edwards, operations director at Churchill Knight, steered Computer Weekly that every thought to be one of its purchasers are being steered to allure in opposition to the letters, no longer least of bearing in mind the reason that amounts HMRC claims they owe are wrong.

“The criminal responsibility [figure] is too tidy. Straight, I’m able to explain you that without even the letter. The motive it’s too tidy is because HMRC haven’t offset the tax of us have already paid in relation to company tax and dividends tax,” he mentioned.

“HMRC might well maybe ship out a invoice for boom £20,000 but [the contractor has] already paid £13,000 to different tax areas of work, and that headline figure will look barely sparkling. But when the allure is build in keep, the criminal responsibility is placed on bewitch and there shall be time to have that revised and different taxes reclaimed within the event of HMRC winning their case.”

Computer Weekly understands HMRC’s investigation into Churchill Knight’s affairs began at the tip of 2018, with an “recordsdata-gathering” dispute that the accountancy firm duly cooperated with.

Nevertheless, it became as soon as no longer until December 2021 that HMRC bought support in contact with the firm to utter its investigation came upon its operations to be in-scope of the MSC guidelines. This conclusion is one Churchill Knight is fiercely provocative.

“Every person is aware of that we’ve done nothing immoral, so we positively know [that our clients] haven’t done anything else immoral,” added Edwards.  

Queries and toughen

In its March 2022 letter to contractors, HMRC claims its review of Churchill Knight’s alternate printed that the firm meets three of the five qualifying requirements wished for it to be classified as an MSCP.

In a reproduction of the letter, considered by Computer Weekly, HMRC mentioned the fact Churchill Knight prices contractors an annual rate that is broken down and picked up over 12 months marks it out as an MSCP.

It also claims Churchill Knight controls the manner payments are made to contractors since it presents every of its purchasers with a yearly statement showing how mighty they’ll be paid, which is then divided by 12 and unfold at some stage within the year.

“If the consumer firm would procure to alternate this, then they would must contact Churchill Knight,” mentioned HMRC, within the letter.

The letter goes on to boom that because Churchill Knight presents purchasers with an net portal, this also puts it in breach of the MSC guidelines.

“It is obvious that [clients] can no longer operate without the portal as they fabricate no longer pay themselves without checking/utilizing the portal first,” the letter reads. “HMRC contends that there might be no such thing as a independence from the portal and, by extension, Churchill Knight.”  

In anticipation of those letters going out, Churchill Knight created a toughen platform for its contractors, so they’ll procure an perception into how the firm is responding to the investigation.

Transparency is terribly fundamental so purchasers can own about the keep we’re coming from and why we’re saying there became as soon as an unsuitable application of the guidelines from HMRC
Tom Edwards, Churchill Knight

“That platform has a diversity of fundamental recordsdata obtainable to folk including recordsdata on the guidelines, the areas of enviornment from HMRC and our technical response to those areas. Transparency is terribly fundamental so purchasers can own about the keep we’re coming from and why we’re saying there became as soon as an unsuitable application of the guidelines from HMRC,” mentioned Edwards.

“We’re looking out for to toughen folk as mighty as we are able to and, meanwhile, we’re discussing loads with our lawyers and HMRC at the support of the scenes, including the interpretation of the guidelines and the map it is being applied, let’s boom.”

On the same time, the firm is also compiling proof of its possess to toughen its rejection of HMRC’s claims in opposition to it, persevered Edwards.

“There are some things in Half 61B(1) that are factually unsuitable. So, again, we’ll be presenting that to HMRC and providing proof as to why these speak cases shouldn’t jog as far as going for allure or tribunal because they’re factually unsuitable, even by HMRC’s possess application of the guidelines,” he mentioned.

“Because it’s seemingly you’ll maybe have faith in, there’s heaps of appeals there to be done and we don’t are looking out for to switch level of interest far from the fact that purchasers need toughen at some stage in this task.”

Talking to Computer Weekly, Rebecca Seeley Harris, a former senior coverage advisor to the Pronounce of work of Tax Simplification, mentioned – because the Churchill Knight case indicates – the guidelines is so broadly drafted and worthy that it is in point of fact a procure-bearing in mind heaps of accountancy corporations.

“As an illustration, it is alleged [Churchill Knight] has ‘affect and keep an eye on’ because they have their possess portal that the firm developed and there might be no such thing as a independence from that,” she mentioned. “That is terribly shut to how enticing mighty ever different contractor accountant works as nicely, even supposing most others will consume a third-event portal esteem FreeAgent.

“I own or hope [this action] is a fishing expedition. There shall be of us that pay up [without appealing] and HMRC gets a handy e-book a rough bewitch,” she added.

Contractors urged to behave quickly

Dave Chaplin, CEO and founding father of contractor compliance consultancy ContractorCalculator, also identified that HMRC’s bewitch on the MSC guidelines manner it might perchance maybe maybe accuse any accounting firm that prices a mounted-rate of being an MSCP, which is “clearly nonsense”.

He added: “What’s even sillier is that for the reason that MSC guidelines came into elevate out in 2007, now we have got considered the upward thrust of online bookkeeping and accounting products and services, the upward thrust of the instrument-as-a-service subscription revolution [for accountancy software]. The MSC guidelines and the map the frequent law emerged runs counter to that. A mess will ensue.”

Computer Weekly understands the contractors caught up within the Churchill Knight investigation have until mid-to-slack April to lodge an allure with HMRC. If HMRC rejects their request, they’ll request for an interior review or request to have their case escalated to a tribunal.

Chaplin mentioned anybody in receipt of thought to be one of those letters wants to behave on its contents quickly, and might well maybe sick-have ample money to bury their heads within the sand.

“If they have acquired a letter from HMRC, then it must be handled,” he mentioned. “Contractors who’ve tax investigation insurance must discuss to their insurer without delay, as failing to yelp them early might well maybe invalidate a whisper. And for any contractor who isn’t insured, they decide to quiet discuss over with a tax defence specialist.”

Within the wake of the principle points about the Churchill Knight investigation, Chaplin, in collaboration with tax specialist David Kirk & Co, has launched the MSC Survivors Community for contractors tormented by HMRC investigations of this nature.

Any contractors with concerns about whether or no longer the accountancy firm they consume might well maybe prove enviornment to the same investigation by HMRC in future must quiet bewitch into consideration performing now too, he persevered. 

“For those contractors who haven’t acquired a letter, I would bustle them to contact their accountant to place if HMRC has opened an enquiry with them,” he mentioned, as it’ll bewitch a whereas for that recordsdata to translate correct into a letter sent jabber to the contractor.   

Within the intervening time, contractors are steered to be definite that there might be nothing in how they interact with their accountancy corporations that is seemingly raise crimson flags, advises Seeley Harris.

“My advice [to contractors] would be to be definite that you’re environment up your possess firm and paying your possess levels of salary and dividends, even supposing the accountant is advising you what the tax rates are,” she mentioned.

“You have got gotten to spoil the chain of keep an eye on and resolution-making that it is your resolution and also you are no longer a managed personal service firm.”

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