Contractor sector backs Margaret Beels as new Labour Market Enforcement Director

The long-vacant position of Labour Market Enforcement Director has finally been filled – by the government appointing Margaret Beels.

Advisers to contractors including James Poyser of offpayroll.org and Parasol’s Jo Harris have criticised the government to ContractorUK for leaving the position empty for 11 months.

Even the previous director, Matthew Taylor, has said it was “baffling” and “sad” that the government did not quickly replace him, despite his offer to work “unpaid if necessary” until his successor was found.

'Deeply concerning'

IR35 expert Rebecca Seeley Harris, who has called it “deeply concerning” that no head of enforcement was in place at a time of schemes and scams, believes the wait has been worth it.

“I’m delighted Margaret Beels has been appointed as the new DLME,” the former Treasury secondee on the Intermediaries legislation yesterday told ContractorUK.

Boss at ReLegal Consulting, she added: “[Beels] has a lot of knowledge and affinity with this area, having received an OBE for services to modern slavery and labour exploitation.”

'Real idea of what goes on'

Julia Kermode of IWORK agrees. “It's a fantastic appointment [given Beels’] background at the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority.

“She'll [therefore] have considerable insight into how vulnerable workers are exploited

“I was worried the new DLME might be someone a bit removed with no real idea what goes on, but I’m very glad to be wrong,” she said.

'Strategic direction'

Beel’s remit as DLME states she will set the “strategic direction” of all three labour market enforcement bodies -- the EASI, HMRCs National Minimum Wage team and the GLAA.

But the ex-head of compliance at British Gas will need to go further than mere direction-setting to make a dent, according to Kate Cottrell, a status specialist, formerly of HMRC.

“Let’s hope the role is not just about setting strategic directions but also has some real teeth,” the co-founder of Bauer & Cottrell began.

“Let’s also hope her role is one which [puts in place] the urgent implementation of umbrella regulation. And as a priority.”

'Proliferation in Disguised Remuneration'

Professional Passport backs the appointment, on broadly the same terms – but suggests it is schemes masquerading as ‘umbrellas’ which should be top of Beels’ ‘to-do’ list.

“We welcome the appointment of Margaret Beels to her new position [but] we would urge her to step up activity in stamping out malpractice, particularly concerning the proliferation of disguised remuneration schemes.”

The compliance organisation’s CEO Crawford Temple explained: “Since off-payroll [reform] was rolled out into the private sector we have seen a rise in the number of contractors being duped into DR schemes.

“HMRC is failing to shut down these schemes fast enough. Let’s hope that the new appointment will lead to some concerted and visible action.”

'Single Enforcement Body funding is a huge step forward'

In line with Mr Temple’s hopes of something tangible soon, the June-pledged Single Enforcement Body has now got the cash it needs, despite no nod at Autumn Budget 2021.

In fact, ReLegal says it has “received” word from the Department for Business, Energy, Innovation and Skills, that the SEB “is being funded”.

“This is a huge step forward for the protection of workers generally but, specifically for the umbrella company workers,” the firm says.

'Huge job'

Standing to be potentially directly affected, given it is an umbrella company, Orca Pay Group can’t wait.

“[Margaret Beels has a] huge job on her hands, but this is yet another positive step in the right direction for [regulation of] the umbrella industry”, says the group’s CEO Rob Sharp.

“While this role has remained vacant for far longer than anyone had hoped, this appointment couldn’t come at a more critical time for the temporary labour market. Good luck Margaret.”

'Distorted and disrupted due to IR35'

The Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed confirmed last night that the appointment of a new DLME was “long overdue.”

The association’s director of policy told ContractorUK: “The new director will have a great deal to be getting on with but we would urge her to focus on two key issues: umbrella company regulation and pressing the government to clarify employment status rules, as it committed to do in 2018.

“Thousands of contractors have had their working lives distorted and disrupted by the IR35 changes in the private sector. Many now find themselves in unwanted relationships with umbrella companies as a result. We must ensure those umbrellas are transparent and fair with their customers and that genuine freelancers that do not choose to use an umbrella are not forced to do so.”

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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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