Logos of Lawspeed and Umbrella Check get misused, amid HMRC blacklisting Easyway Umbrella Ltd

Two cases of contractor sector logo misuse have been exposed by ContractorUK, in wake of HMRC updating its avoidance blacklist.

Before this month adding Apricot Umbrella Ltd and Countrywide Partners Ltd, HMRC said it was also listing Easyway Umbrella Ltd as a tax avoidance scheme people must “exit” from.

But confusingly for contractors who visited the ‘umbrella company’ online since HMRC blacklisted it on July 27th, Easyway displayed an independent assessor’s compliance logo.


In fact, to its visitors, Easyway showed the logo of ‘Umbrella Check,’ an outfit which claims to provide “rigorous” compliance checks “for organisations in the recruitment supply chain.”

Umbrella Check (UC) told ContractorUK that, “at the point of audit,” Easyway (EWU) was “compliant with our process,” after which EWU was free to use UC’s “approved status” logo.

But on seeing Easyway’s inclusion on HMRC’s blacklist “we of course had no choice but to remove their approved status, subject to reaudit,” and “asked them to remove” the UC logo.

'We had asked them to remove our logo'

Also in a statement, UC thanked ContractorUK for “highlighting” EWU as still displaying its logo, given “we had asked them to remove it” and ‘weren’t aware they were still using it.’

But Umbrella Check isn’t the only victim of logo misuse (the UC logo was removed by EWU in the last few days).

On Umbrella Check’s own website, the logo of Lawspeed was displayed.

Or at least, UC carried Lawspeed’s logo on its website up until Tuesday -- the day ContractorUK got in touch to say Lawspeed has not granted it permission for such a display.

'Too broad'

“We appreciate that the use of the Lawspeed logo is too broad,” UC said, conceding that its only connection to Lawspeed is that it occasionally invites the law firm to review documents.

A spokesperson for UC added: “Lawspeed has pointed out they have not given us permission to use it [Lawspeed’s logo] on our website. And as such we have happily removed it.”

Umbrella Check also said (and Lawspeed has now confirmed to ContractorUK), that the law firm didn’t review documents related to EWU, nor was even aware EWU was UC-approved. 

'Schemes, promoters, enablers and suppliers'

It is not the first time that a new entrant on HMRC’s tax avoidance “schemes, promoters, enablers and suppliers” list, has led to scrutiny over the use of accreditation logos.

In June 2022, a few days after HMRC identified it as a scheme, Peak Paye Ltd was still giving its web visitors the impression of compliance by claiming to be a member of ‘IFCP.’

But ‘Institute of Freelancing and Contracting Professionals,’ or ‘The Society for Professional Freelance Contractors and their Associates,’ drew a blank to both IPSE and a veteran adviser.

Attempts to convey legitimacy, compliance or even just professionalism probably wouldn’t be needed at all if there was a framework which regulated umbrella companies.

'Very topical'

Adrian Marlowe, managing director of Lawspeed fleshed out his assessment to ContractorUK: “These two instances are very topical given the consultation into umbrellas.”

Marlowe was referring first to the addition of Easyway to HMRC’s blacklist and second, to what he called, “misuse of logos by both Easyway and Umbrella Check.”

Graham Webber, tax director of WTT Consulting sounds keen for the umbrella market consultation to eventually lead to at least some law and order.

'Wild West'

“This really is the Wild West,” Mr Webber, a former tax official said. “There is very little legislation here that protects you -- the person with most to lose.

“Who should be driving this -- the FCSA [for example], aren’t interested in derailing the gravy train. And all the time, HMRC is blaming you [-- the worker --] if you get it wrong.”

Webber was speaking online in a post about Easyway, which contractors joined to say it’s not only unfair they’re accountable, but that they also get lumbered with sizing up who’s bonafide.

'Selling beef lasagne with horsemeat'

“Why should it be down to the worker to question the validity of the umbrella company?” posted one.

Another, specialising in risk asked: “Why not close them [schemes masquerading as genuine umbrellas] down, ASAP? If I was selling beef lasagne with horsemeat, I would be closed down in days by trading standards.”

But an umbrella company big on compliance says in the case of Easyway, HMRC’s description indicates contractors wouldn’t need to probe too deeply to tell something was off.

'Bog-standard tax avoidance'

“In simple terms, this is a bog-standard tax avoidance scheme,” says the company, Clarity Umbrella.

Clarity’s boss Lucy Smith also told ContractorUK: “[It features the rightly taxed and] usual national minimum wage [but] with the rest paid out in a different way.

“However they call the rest a ‘loan’ or ‘credit’ or ‘other payment.’ Remember though [whatever you call it] if it is not subject to PAYE taxes, then it is some form of avoidance.”

Upon blacklisting Easyway, HMRC reminded that “some umbrella companies operate more than one scheme, such as a standard compliant scheme and a non-compliant scheme

“HMRC advise employees of [Easyway] to familiarise themselves with the guidance and to satisfy themselves that the correct amount of tax is being deducted on their income,” the Revenue said.


Taking to LinkedIn to reflect on all three schemes being blacklisted (Easyway of Hemel Hempstead, Apricot of Canterbury and Cyprus, and Countrywide of Liverpool), one contractor asked: 

“How many people are being lulled in by these schemes ? I doubt very few will know to look at the latest [HMRC] list.”

To boost the list’s visibility, Payepass’s Julia Kermode says whenever the Revenue updates it, she’ll ‘update her followers’ with the new entries, even though it “irritates” her to “do HMRC’s marketing for them.”

'Three steps forward, seven back'

But she spoke of another irritation. “It’s three steps forward seven steps back…[because despite Easyway, Apricot and Countrywide getting added in July-August], seven other tax avoidance schemes identified by HMRC were removed from this list,” Kermode says.

“[The removals were] in line with the requirements of the Finance Act 2021 -- which means promoters of schemes can only be made public for 12 months.”

Also the founder of IWORK, Kermode asked: “How much good is it for HMRC to warn workers and businesses of three tax avoidance schemes only to delete seven known others? I can’t understand the logic behind it whatsoever.”

'Ridiculous loophole'

Payepass’s CEO, she continued: “This ridiculous loophole in legislation completely undermines the purpose of the list, not to mention the impact it is or isn’t having. Publishing a list of tax avoidance schemes is all well and good but if schemes are being removed more than they’re being identified, HMRC is hardly solving the problem. I’m not sure that the government is doing enough to make sure this list reaches enough people and businesses either. 

“We’ve seen it with the loan charge, where tens of thousands of innocent people were lured into working through tax avoidance schemes only to be hit with devastating tax bills years later. The more that is done to put a stop to these unlawful, immoral schemes, the better.”

Asked what its compliance audits include, the Umbrella Check spokesperson said: “Umbrella Check has a robust compliance framework using in-person reviews of a large amount of resources such as company bank accounts, payslip and RTI checks, as well as processes and contracts. The clients who engage with UC are subject to a strict approval agreement that they must follow or be removed.”

'No guarantee'

Yet it’s the clients of umbrellas -- contractors -- whom, ultimately, risk being left carrying the can.

Lawspeed’s Mr Marlowe said: “The [inescapable] point is that while every umbrella company claims to offer compliant services, there is no guarantee that the services and operations are compliant.

“And therefore, any contractor who works with any umbrella runs the risk of a future claim from HMRC if correct levels of PAYE and employee NICs are not paid.”

'Umbrella registration scheme'

Ahead of the umbrella consultation closing on August 29th, the recruitment lawyer added in a statement to ContractorUK:

“For this reason, [i.e. the contractor running the risk] in response to the consultation, the Association of Recruitment Consultancies, of which I am chair, will press the government to set up an ‘umbrella registration scheme’ run by a government department, with registration limited to those umbrella companies that meet proper standards.

“This would rule out; uncertainty for everyone, invalid tax schemes, and umbrellas operated by tax avoidance or unqualified operators. Yet it would permit the genuine, well-run umbrellas to continue. I believe that the government has a great opportunity now to tidy up the sector which we hope it will grasp -- with both hands.”

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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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