Outlook for HMRC avoidance list deemed worryingly healthy
Contractors’ advisers are getting close to suggesting that the taxman not pursuing scheme promoters grants his avoidance ‘blacklist’ a longer lease of life.
The list was updated by HMRC last month, with the addition of Alpha Republic Ltd and last week, Canopaye Ltd and Integra Resourcing Ltd (Malta).
'Avoidance blacklist is growing steadily'
These three additions mean “some 30+ named companies” are now the focus of an HMRC resource which is “growing steadily” since its launch in April 2022, observes IWORK.
Potentially offering a soundbite for a chancellor keen to show HMRC is tackling avoidance, the list is “certainly going to [contain] high-profile names” in the future, the advisory adds.
Big name additions are partly guaranteed as HMRC “continues to focus” enforcement activity on “pursuing the workers …rather than the promoters of the schemes”, says compliance firm Professional Passport.
“[Despite being named, the effect is] the perpetrators continue to thrive, and continue to dupe innocent workers who could then be liable [to HMRC]”, explains the firm’s Crawford Temple.
Fred Dures, founder of PayePass says HMRC naming schemes “one-by-one” is it “papering over the cracks," in line with the stance he outlined last week exclusively to ContractorUK.
A qualified solicitor, Mr Dures described the government’s approach as ‘beyond him’ because while HMRC keeps adding schemes to its list, a chance to regulate was passed up.
“Government could and should do a lot more”, he said, referring to the Single Enforcement Body getting shelved. “Naming these schemes… [is ignoring] the elephant in the room.”
'NMW legitimises relationship for the eyes of HMRC'
Reflecting on Alpha Republic joining HMRC’s list, a LinkedIn user noted that in common with many of the listed schemes, Alpha uses a National Minimum Wage component.
“The other component is then considered to be ‘fair game’ to be manipulated via artificial constructions.
“[But] presumably the NMW component [is popular with providers as it] legitimises the relationship for the eyes of HMRC,” said the user. “Thus reducing the need for [HMRC’s] gaze”.
'Should set alarm bells ringing'
The Revenue possess the information it needs already, however, if closing down schemes like Alpha’s (operating out of 85 Great Portland St W1W 7LT) is the aim, says Mr Temple.
He specified: “RTI reporting…along with the 2014 Intermediary Reporting provides HMRC with two sets of data that gives a unique insight into the market and the supply chain.
“Matching that data should set alarm bells ringing and help HMRC to identify a dubious provider -- and shut it down with immediate effect.”
'Have I got a good idea for you'
Working more closely with the likes of his operation, in conjunction with the contractor sector and fellow departments, would let HMRC stamp out schemes, Professional Passport’s boss added.
“They [really] could identify the non-compliant ‘have I got a good idea for you’ schemes and limit and restrict their access”, said Mr Temple, clearly puzzled why HMRC doesn’t.
“Compliance bodies set their own compliance standards and a more structured and collegiate approach would allow [government] departments to inform and be informed on pressure points in the market and drive the cowboys out of the industry faster.”
Last week online, a procurement contractor warned that he was receiving an 80%-plus take-home pay offer from a firm which he claimed identified itself as “Contractor Planet.”
“Questionable comms…[from outfits] plugging their approved list of umbrella companies…still appear to be rife,” posted the contractor.
The warning follows an umbrella company taking the unconventional step of volunteering a Key Information Document with every contractor payslip, in a bid to be “totally transparent.”
“Each new KID produced is an exact reflection of the work done for that period and corresponds to precise figures, deductions and explanations,” wrote the umbrella, People Group Services (PGS).
“We are confident that this, along with payslips, assignment schedules and a precise KID, will offer complete peace-of-mind and greater understanding as to how the workers' earnings are broken down, every time they get paid.”
Reflecting on the move, PGS’s Terry Hillier said a KID per payslip had resulted in the volume of calls by contractors querying their payroll almost halving in four weeks.
“The sector must self-police,” confirms PayePass, advising on what umbrella companies should do in the absence of the SEB, and in the absence of the government outlining actions it will take instead of launching the SEB -- which it has been asked to do.
Potentially hoping for a change of heart at Budget 2023 on March 15th, PayePass’s Mr Dures continued: “Regulating the umbrella industry wouldn’t just protect workers and the businesses engaging them, it would raise billions in tax revenue at a time when it’s needed more than ever.”
'Govt inaction means schemes will be around for some time to come'
At IWORK, founder Julia Kermode agrees, saying “more must be done” by officialdom, even if it is shy of what PayePass calls the “no brainer” -- regulation.
In a statement, Ms Kermode said: “The government’s alarming lack of action regarding umbrella industry regulation means tax avoidance schemes will be around for some time to come.”
Unsure a corresponding blacklist to detail those schemes is the ultimate solution to eradicating them, Professional Passport told ContractorUK: “HMRC’s naming and shaming campaign is to be applauded. But it is simply not efficient and effective enough. There is a proliferation of tax avoidance and disguised remuneration schemes operating in the market [right now].”
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