‘Sheriff Pluck’ called to clean up the ‘Wild West’ umbrella supply chain

The chief executive of a contractor sector trade body has been pictured as a gun-toting sheriff, in a bid to call him out to ‘clean up the umbrella supply chain.’

Phil Pluck, CEO of the Freelancer & Contractor Services Association, had his head superimposed on the graphic last week, under “Wanted: Sheriff to clean up the Wild West.”

Issued by off-payroll.org, the call to action refers to the Loan Charge APPG umbrella inquiry, which heard witnesses liken supply chains to the “Wild West” because brollies are unregulated.

'Legislative changes'

Ruth Cadbury, a Labour MP, reapplied the pressure on umbrellas on Tuesday, telling the government that “legislative changes” are needed to stop brollies exploiting workers.

Neil Carberry, chief executive of agency body the REC is among those leaning towards an industry-led response, rather than add-ons to the currently under review Finance Bill.

In a post, Mr Carberry said it was “vital that we step up as an industry,” and that “compliance and fair treatment” should be our "watchwords.”

'Kickbacks to recruiters'

“Will you follow the Loan Charge APPG's recommendations?” asks off-payroll.org in its ‘Wild West’ depiction of the FCSA’s Mr Pluck.

“[Will you] mandate that your members stop withholding holiday pay; stop kickbacks to recruiters; stop hiding fees and costs on payslips; stop forcing contractors to use a specific brolly [and] stop forcing contractors to opt-out of [the] conduct regs?”

Mr Pluck has not responded to the graphic, or the public calling out for him to act, but he has cited the APPG’s report in a quite a personal post he made on ‘Bullying and Harassment.’

'Those who twist, and stone-throwers'

“Much of the evidence that the recent Loan Charge Parliamentary committee heard came from the FCSA [-- ourselves],” he wrote online.

“For those who choose to twist this, the world should know that we are the ones highlighting bad practice in order to illuminate it. Again, the stone-throwers were nowhere near these enquiries”.

Mr Pluck was alluding to a recent BBC Moneybox probe, in which an unnamed FCSA umbrella company was reported to have pocketed the unused holiday pay of its contractors.

'£50,000 difference'

But at the weekend, it was an umbrella company which revealed that it had spent last week helping contractors, in the hope that an HMRC investigation can potentially be headed off.

The brolly, Orca Pay said: “Over the last 48 hours, we have been assisting 25 contractors…[who might have unknowingly] been operating within an avoidance model.

“In this instance, the payslips that the contractors received matched the payments in [one of] the individual's bank account, however when the individual checked their personal tax account, the submissions to HMRC were in some instances £50,000 below what was stipulated on the payslips.”

'Schemes are still being sold, as HMRC knows'

Blowing the whistle on the alleged scam on LinkedIn, Orca’s Robert Sharp said falsifying payslips to deceive innocent contractors, “who now have some very difficult conversations with HMRC,” showed the “lengths” that “unscrupulous outfits” were currently going to.

Ms Cadbury confirmed in her address to her fellow MPs: “As the government and HMRC are well aware, schemes are still being sold.

“Mis-sold," she said. "To people including mid and low-paid public service workers – nurses, doctors in the NHS and other clinical specialists, teachers and social workers.  And also many in the private sector – IT, business services and so on.”

'Check your HMRC account'

Addressing workers with concerns about whether their umbrella is a bonafide PAYE employer, Mr Sharp advised: “It is vitally important for all contractors to ensure that they are cross-checking their payslips received [against] each payment to their personal [HMRC] tax account.

"In this instance…we have also advised [the 25 contractors] to report the outfit to the relevant authorities.”

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Written by Simon Moore

Simon writes impartial news and engaging features for the contractor industry, covering, IR35, the loan charge and general tax and legislation.
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