Autumn Statement Key Outputs

The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, has today presented his first Autumn Statement to Parliament.

The Autumn Statement was the Chancellor’s first opportunity to outline his priorities for taxes and spending in the wake of the Brexit vote. PM Theresa May has previously commented that the Chancellor will “lay out an agenda that is not just ambitious for business, but ambitious for Britain. He will do more to boost Britain’s long-term economic success. He will make sure Britain, outside of the EU, is the most attractive place for business to invest.”

The flexibility of the UK labour market makes it an attractive place to create jobs and it is this flexibility that has been crucial to recent economic recovery, allowing firms to hire quickly or tailor their staff levels to meet customer needs. I was therefore eager to hear what announcements would be made today to recognise and support the UK’s flexible workforce, particularly given the need for our economy to remain resilient as we withdraw from the EU.

VAT Flat Rate Scheme

The government will introduce a new 16.5% rate from 1 April 2017 for businesses with limited costs, such as many labour-only businesses. Currently, businesses determine which flat rate percentage to use by reference to their trade sector. HMRC have published a technical note regarding this proposal and it appears from that document that the new FRV rate of 16.5% will apply to a “limited cost trader”. The definition of a limited cost trader is yet to be agreed but the initial proposal is to base this on a business which incurs costs on “goods” (excluding food and drink consumed by the business or its employees / director, vehicles, vehicle parts, fuel and capital expenditure) of less than 2% of VAT inclusive turnover or of less than £1,000 a year. We would expect some limited company contractors to fall inside this definition and therefore have to pay FRV at the higher rate of 16.5% from 1 April 2017.

There will be a short period of consultation before the legislation is finalised which will commence on 5 December 2016 so the final legislation may not be published until March 2017.

We are disappointed by this change as it is appeared to be targeting the abuse of the FRV scheme in certain sectors where a limited company is used solely for the purpose of accessing the FRV benefit for a worker who is caught by IR35 e.g. teachers. However, genuine contractors across all market sectors will be impacted and appear to be being asked to foot the bill for non-compliance.

Employee Business Expenses

The government will publish a “call for evidence” at Budget 2017 on the use of the income tax relief for employees’ business expenses, including those that are not reimbursed by their employer. From what we can currently see, this does not appear to be aimed at limited company contractors but it has the potential to inadvertently impact them and we will be keeping an eye on how this evolves.

Disguised Remuneration Schemes

Budget 2016 announced changes to tackle use of disguised remuneration schemes by employers and employees. The government will now extend the scope of these changes to tackle the use of disguised remuneration avoidance schemes by the self-employed. This will ensure that self-employed users of these schemes pay their fair share of tax and National Insurance. Again, whilst not seemingly targeted at limited company contractors, this has the potential to inadvertently impact limited company contractors and will be keeping an eye on how this evolves.

HMRC Support for Emerging Insolvency Risks

HMRC will develop its ability to identify emerging insolvency risk, using external analytical expertise. HMRC will use this information to tailor its debt collection activity, improve customer service and provide support to struggling businesses. We are aware that over the last 4 or 5 years, HMRC have not been as proactive as they used to be in chasing limited companies which fail to pay their tax bills on time. This threat of HMRC becoming more proactive in the future should encourage more limited company contractors to manage their company finances better and engage with their accountant if they get into financial difficulties in advance of HMRC debt collection activity commencing.

Tax Rates and Allowances

We welcome the Government’s commitment to reducing corporation tax rates in the UK to 17% by 2020. This will benefit genuine contractors. We also welcome the on-going increases to the personal allowance enabling taxpayers to retain additional money whilst tax rates remain stable.

For more detailed information on changes to tax allowances and other specific tax measures announced today please see our Autumn Statement 2016 Summary Guide.

Summary

Unfortunately, there is not much in the way of positive announcements to support the flexible workforce. Whilst I am pleased to see the government taking some action to tackle non-compliant working practices in the flexible labour market I am disappointed that the measures being brought in will financially impact genuine contractors.

There will be lots of detail to review when the draft legislation, to support all these measures, is published (likely to be on 5 December) and I will produce a further blog shortly after this with my thoughts. The general flavour of today’s announcement is that the Government recognise that the world of work is changing, the labour market is becoming more flexible and there are many different ways of working and further changes may be around the corner. Whilst there appears to be little ability to influence HMRC I think it’s important, now more than ever, for everyone involved in the flexible labour market supply chain to work together to act in the best interests of the sector, cut out non-compliant activity around the edges and remind Government at every opportunity of the value of the compliant end of the market.