New government proposals target the promoters of national insurance contribution (NIC) avoidance schemes, while plans are in place to introduce a zero rate of employer contributions in Freeports. Both measures are included in the National Insurance Contributions Bill 2021.
Crackdown on avoidance
NIC avoidance is already within the scope of the Disclosure of Tax Avoidance Schemes (DOTAS) regime, but these measures will strengthen HMRC’s ability to clamp down on the market for NIC avoidance. HMRC will be able to act quickly and decisively where promoters fail to provide information on their NIC avoidance schemes.
One area which has received considerable publicity is the use of mini-umbrella companies, where a temporary workforce is split into hundreds of small, limited companies. Each company benefits from the £4,000 employment allowance, avoiding the annual employer NICs on this amount.
HMRC is on the lookout for particular actions. The new measures target promoters that:
From 6 April 2022, employers with business premises in a Freeport tax site will be able to benefit from a zero rate of employer NICs (visit www.britishports.org.uk/Freeports to find out more about Freeports). Eligible employees will be those who spend at least 60% of their working time at the site. However, only new hires will qualify, and then only on annual earnings up to £25,000. Relief will apply for 36 months per employee. At current rates, a Freeport employer will save a potential £6,690 in NICs per employee over 36 months.
Relief is available until at least 5 April 2026, although it might run for a further five years. Regardless of whether relief is extended, new hires employed by 5 April 2026 will qualify for 36 months of relief.
A recently released report on capital gains tax (CGT) by the Office of Tax Simplification (OTS) has made several recommendations on the future of a tax, about which it says many people have limited awareness or understanding. The 30-day reporting and payment deadline for residential property disposals comes in for particular criticism.
Although around half a million people need to report disposals each tax year, the majority will only be affected on a one-off basis. Reporting may be via self-assessment, 30-day reporting or the real time CGT service, so the OTS has suggested integration into a single customer account.
The OTS considers 30 days to be a challenging requirement and has therefore recommended the reporting deadline is increased to 60 days. An alternative proposal suggests estate agents and conveyancers could be more involved.
However, HMRC may well resist extending the deadline given that over £1.3 million was raised in late filing penalties for the last six months of 2020.
Private residence relief nominations
The OTS found a lack of awareness of the nomination procedure for second homes, and recommends:
Divorce and separation
Divorced and separated couples do not incur any CGT on transfers between themselves for the tax year of separation, but very few are able to come to an agreement and transfer assets during this timeframe unless separation occurs near the start of the year.
The OTS therefore suggests relief be extended until the later of:
Contractors have turned to umbrella companies as a hassle-free way of providing their services to clients following the recent changes to the off payroll working rules. They receive no tax savings, but pass on some administration and pay less than a standalone limited company would charge. However, not all umbrella companies are equal.
The main advantage to using an umbrella company is that the off payroll working rules will not apply. All of your earnings become subject to PAYE in the hands of the umbrella company. HMRC has published a useful guide explaining how and what you will be paid when working through an umbrella company(www.gov.uk/guidance/working-through-an-umbrella-company).
You, as the contractor, will be an employee of the umbrella company, and the umbrella company will therefore pay you for the work carried out for clients, whether contracted directly, or via an employment agency. Gross pay is calculated after various costs, such as:
However, holiday pay must normally be taken in the year it is accrued and cannot be carried forward. This is one area where an unscrupulous umbrella company can cost you, with some simply pocketing pay for unclaimed holidays.
Most umbrella companies are compliant with tax rules, but some use tax avoidance schemes. Be wary of an umbrella company that:
HMRC has published guidance to identifying schemes that wrongly claim to increase take-home pay.