FCSA appoints four independent experts as ‘final arbiter’ of its dispute decisions

Accreditation body the Freelancer and Contractor Services Association has set up what it is calling its new Independent Arbitration Panel (IAP).

Comprised of four experts who are non-FCSA employees, the panel will be the “final arbiters on all disputes that have not been resolved”, or resolved unsatisfactorily in the eyes of FCSA members and their workers.

This was the remit shared with ContractorUK yesterday by IAP member Rebecca Seeley Harris, a lawyer who spoke of being “delighted” to now be playing a part in “bringing an independent level of compliance to the FCSA.”

'Members agree to be bound by the panel's decisions' 

Ms Seeley Harris has previously been critical of FCSA member companies, describing one which she said appeared to not be technically breaking the law as nonetheless, “repugnant.”

But in a potential sea-change, the FCSA board has now “delegated its authority” to the panel, and the association’s members “agree to be bound” by the IAP’s decisions,” Chris Bryce, FCSA’s chief executive disclosed last night to ContractorUK.

“The panel was conceived by me when I first joined FCSA as its CEO,” Mr Bryce continued in a statement, reflecting on his January 2022 appointment.

'Extremely rare'

He explained: “I believed that there should ultimately be an independent body to arbitrate on genuine issues under any of the FCSA’s charter or codes raised by members -- or workers -- in the extremely rare cases where the issue raised has not been satisfactorily resolved by the existing processes [at] FCSA”.

Further according to Mr Bryce, previously CEO at the Association of Independent Professionals the Self-Employed (IPSE), the panel will consider appeals by prospective FCSA members such as umbrella companies, whose applications get initially rejected by FCSA.

Formerly of IPSE too, where he was chairman for three years, James Collings is one of the four new FCSA IAP members.

'Carberry, Collings, Reader'

Neil Carberry, chief executive of the Recruitment & Employment Confederation, is likewise one of the IAP appointees.

The LinkedIn profiles of both Mr Collings and Mr Carberry, which details their professional experience and current appointments, are yet to make any mention of their new FCSA roles.

Carl Reader, chairman of contractor accountancy firm d&t accountants, completes the four-person arbitration panel at the FCSA.

Another IPSE heavy-hitter -- given he has been in-post since 2018 as an IPSE Ambassador, Mr Reader did post on social media yesterday, following his acceptance of the FCSA role.

'Quite a bit for the FCSA Independent Arbitration Panel to sort out'

But similarly taking to LinkedIn after the four independent experts were hired as final arbiters of FCSA’s dispute decisions is a law expert, who previously headed legal services for the Independent Health Professionals Association.

Specifically, IHPA’s ex-head of legal Stephen Mhiribidi, even suggested that the four IAP members hailing from the accountancy, legal, recruitment and consulting sectors was all but necessary, because the panel has “quite a bit to sort out.”

Then, almost recommending what the adjudicating quartet should turn its attention to first, Mr Mhiribidi advised: “Best to look at the members [of the FCSA] who claim to be fully compliant and yet pocket…contractors' money [like] holiday pay”.


The legal expert went on: “The FCSA was in the process of sorting this out, but were apparently threatened with legal action by one…[of their own] member [companies].”

The association hit the headlines way before ContractorUK revealed the member’s threat of legal action, however.

In particular, four months ago, despite initially suggesting that it would publicise the findings of an FCSA investigation into a FCSA member company accused of unethical practice, the association eventually made little public disclosure, and then quietly extended the company’s membership.

Since then, the managing director of a second FCSA umbrella company stepped down from the FCSA’s board after a court ruling went against his company and in favour of HMRC.

But a director at the first FCSA company (accused of unethical practice and then subjected to the FCSA investigation), kept his top job at the FCSA throughout the entire period.

So -- one member of the FCSA’s top brass keeping his salaried job while another member quit (even though it was of his own volition), triggered accusations against the FCSA of ‘scape-goating’ and double-standards.

'Meticulousness with contractor compliance'

However, now sounding up for the challenge implied by Mr Mhiribidi in his post, the FCSA boldly claimed yesterday that, “when it comes to compliance in the freelancer and contractor industry, meticulousness is an absolute necessity.”

In a similar online post -- though not about its accreditation procedures but welcoming its new IAP, the association said the industry experience of each of its four independent appointees was ‘enviable.’

“Members of the IAP were approached based on their expertise in the market and represent key stakeholder groups,” echoed Mr Bryce, responding to questions from ContractorUK.

But asked whether the IAP’s deliberations would be made public, the FCSA’s boss admitted that they would not be.

“IAP’s decisions will be made available to the FCSA member concerned,” Mr Bryce said. “And…[made available to the] the party appealing the original decision.”

'Very good move'

A former contractor, Mr Bryce declined to give an example of the type of dispute which the IAP will arbitrate on, and he did not say whether it might include allegations of contractor holiday pay withholding by an FCSA member company.

Yet IAP member Ms Seeley Harris signalled last night that it would or at least, it ought to.

Boss of ReLegal Consulting and the co-founder of the Fair Umbrella Campaign – a campaign she says she will continue to run, she told ContractorUK: “[Remember] we will be the final arbiters on all [FCSA] disputes that haven't been resolved [or have been resolved unsatisfactorily according to FCSA members or their workers]. So I think this is a very good move by Chris Bryce, and I am delighted to be on the panel with my other esteemed colleagues.”


Also speaking to ContractorUK, chartered accountant James Poyser, co-founder of the Fair Umbrella Campaign said: "I welcome any moves by the FCSA to bring more independence and rigor. And I'm impressed by who they have managed to recruit onto the panel.

"It's fair to say it's been a year of ups and downs for the trade association, and perhaps the recent run of stories is helping the executive team to realise that greater success can be achieved by considering all stakeholders, not just the companies they represent."

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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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