UK government puts IR35 tax reforms on hold for a year in wake of coronavirus crisis
‘This is a deferral, not a cancellation’ official insists
Heads up, IT contractors: the implementation of Britain’s IR35 controversial tax reforms have been delayed by a year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The decision was announced among a £330bn financial package for the UK economy that includes a business rate holiday, emergency loans for companies, and financial assistance to airlines.
Speaking in Parliament on Tuesday evening, Chief Secretary to the Treasury Steve Barclay said: “The government is postponing the reforms to the off-payroll working rules, IR35, from 6 April 2020 to 6 April 2021.”
He said the suspension is in “response to the ongoing spread of COVID-19 to help businesses and individuals,” but insisted it will still go ahead as planned the following year.
“This is a deferral, not a cancellation, and the government remains committed to reintroducing this policy to ensure people working like employees but through their own limited company, pay broadly the same tax as those employed directly,” he added.
Many corporations decided to institute a blanket ban of personal service companies (PSCs) rather than risk being financially liable for a tax bill should their contractors be deemed in scope of IR35. That list includes big banks such as Barclays, Lloyds, RBS, Deutsche Bank, and HSBC, as well as pharma giant GSK and defence titan BAE Systems.
A much-anticipated government review, initiated earlier this year, offered contractors a number of concessions, but nonetheless allowed officials to forge ahead with the planned changes. The chancellor’s omission of any mention of the reforms from his budget speech last week had done little to quell contractors’ concerns. The results of a separate review by the House of Lords were expected over the next few weeks. Now it matters not, for the time being at least.
James Poyser, CEO of inniAccounts and founder of the offpayroll.org.uk campaign group, welcomed the pause as it “means that contractors can now switch gears and put all of their energy into the wider challenges we’re all going to face.
“We’re going to have to keep a watching brief on the market in the coming months. Whilst the wider economy is due to enter a turbulent period, it’s clear by the scale of the £330bn financial measures made available by the Treasury today that the government wishes to keep the economic engine running as much as they can. We hope these two factors combined have an impact on the contracting market.”
Over at the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed (IPSE), director of policy Andy Chamberlain said the British government’s decision on IR35 was “sensible.”
“These changes have already undermined the incomes of many self-employed businesses across the UK. However, they would have done even more serious damage if they had gone ahead as planned. It is right and responsible to delay the changes to IR35 for at least a year during the Coronavirus crisis, to reduce the strain and income loss for self-employed businesses,” he added. ®
The latest monthly Recruitment Trends Snapshot report from the Association of Professional Staffing Companies (APSCo) in conjunction with growth analytics platform cube19, has seen the impact of the roll out of IR35 changes to the private sector. The Snapshot has revealed contract placements dropping a sizeable 10.1 per cent month-on-month, as employers shy away from contingent workers.
Along with growth in permanent placements, the data shows a huge uptick in recruitment sales revenue from permanent placements year-on-year, which increased 24.5 per cent – another possible indication of the impact of IR35, with businesses reducing their reliance on contractors.
The latest KPMG and REC, UK Report on Jobs survey signalled a stronger rise in permanent placements during February, but temp billings continued to fall largely due to upcoming IR35 legislation changes. Nonetheless, total demand for staff expanded at the quickest rate for over a year, which was often linked to a sustained improvement in market confidence since last year’s general election. At the same time, the overall supply of candidates fell at the weakest rate since June 2013, with some recruiters mentioning that people were more willing to seek out new roles.
February data signalled a sharp and accelerated rise in demand for staff, with the rate of vacancy growth the quickest for just over one year. The stronger increase was supported by firmer demand for both permanent and short-term staff, with the former noting the quicker rate of expansion. The overall drop in candidate supply was the weakest recorded since June 2013 in February. Recruiters commented that improved confidence among workers and upcoming changes to IR35 legislation had both contributed to the slower decline in candidate numbers.
New data from the Recruitment & Employment Confederation (REC) shows that businesses have become more confident in their ability to hire new staff.
“Businesses across the country have grown more confident since the election,” said Tom Hadley, director of policy and campaigns at the REC.
UK – HIRING CONFIDENCE REBOUNDS, DEMAND FOR TEMP STAFF RISES OVER THE YEAR: REC
Employers’ confidence in making hiring and investment decisions increased in the period from November 2019 to January 2020, returning to positive territory, according to the latest JobsOutlook survey from the Recruitment and Employment Confederation.
The survey showed that employer confidence in making hiring and investment decisions improved by ten percentage points this quarter, returning to positive territory at net: +7.
However, when asked if they think economic conditions in the country as a whole are getting better or worse, 46% of employers said worse while 19% said better. Despite confidence being in the negative territory, it was still an improvement over the previous rolling quarter.
Meanwhile, demand for permanent staff remains high, both in the short and medium term, at net: +21 and net: +26, respectively. Businesses are looking to expand their workforce after months of uncertainty and delay.
Demand for temporary agency workers fell back into negative territory this quarter when compared to the previous rolling quarter. However, short-term and medium-term levels were higher than in the same period a year earlier.
“Large employers especially have become more negative about hiring temps, perhaps due to the administrative burden of the upcoming IR35 changes,” the REC stated.
The REC also found that more employers highlighted the importance of agency workers for responding to growth (up from 57% to 69%) and for managing organisational change (up from 54% to 68%) compared to a year earlier.
Seven in ten (71%) employers who hire agency workers said that it is important that their recruitment agency partners provide information on how to manage your temporary workforce as a service.
REC’s survey also showed that approximately half, or 49%, of employers of permanent staff are already worried about finding enough candidates to fill their permanent vacancies.
“These worries are especially pronounced in sectors like health and social care and construction, industries where the government’s new immigration policy will have serious negative consequences for allowing labour into those sectors,” the report stated.
Tom Hadley, Director of Policy and Campaigns at the REC, said, “Businesses across the country have grown more confident since the election. With more certainty about what lies ahead in the short term, many have taken the opportunity to start hiring again. Now that demand for staff is on the rise and the majority of employers have little or no spare capacity in their workforce, staff availability is the major challenge.”
“As a result, last week’s immigration policy announcement has worried many employers. Sectors like healthcare, construction and logistics currently rely on workers from overseas, and are already facing labour shortages. Although the government might refer to these roles as ‘low-skilled’, they are highly important – not just for employers but also for patients, consumers and existing staff who are already overworked. We need a temporary work visa that allows businesses to hire the people they need at all skill levels and pay grades.
Bedfordshire Chamber of Commerce reports:
Over half of UK firms attempted to recruit in the last quarter of 2019, but almost three quarters have struggled to find the right talent, the largest survey of UK employers has found.
• Labour market remains stable as over half (55%) of UK businesses attempted to recruit in the final quarter of 2019.
• Skills shortages continue to impact growth as 72% of firms reported recruitment difficulties in Q4 2019.
• With greater political stability, one in four (26%) businesses expect to increase their workforce in Q1 2020.
The latest Quarterly Recruitment Outlook from the British Chambers of Commerce, in partnership with Totaljobs, revealed continued skills shortages in the UK workforce ahead of the government’s first Budget next month.
While over half of UK firms (55%) were looking to hire, the report revealed that 72% of businesses had difficulty finding the right talent.
The figures illustrate a critical skills deficit across the UK workforce, with shortages most apparent in the construction and hospitality sectors, with 79% and 77% respectively struggling to recruit. Two thirds (67%) of construction businesses attempted to recruit in Q4, up from 62% in Q3. In both these sectors – and others – uncertainty over the UK’s future immigration regime continues to be a concern.
Looking ahead, 26% of UK firms say they plan to increase their workforce in the first quarter of 2020. The construction industry reports the highest proportion of firms looking to grow their headcount (34%).
The report’s findings highlight the need to address critical skills shortages in the upcoming Budget, including commitments to long-term funding for vocational education and for apprenticeships in small and medium-sized businesses – both of which are crucial to the government’s ambition to ‘level up’ opportunities across the UK.
BCC and Totaljobs are also calling on the government to review the Apprenticeship Levy, which hits every firm with a payroll of over £3m, to ensure companies can use the funds to train their staff. Greater flexibility for employers on how funds can be used towards vital non-apprenticeship or accredited training could help to make better use of this budget and upskill the UK workforce.
Adam Marshall, Director General of BCC, said:
“Although it is encouraging that businesses are looking to take on people, the prolonged skills shortages they’re facing are not sustainable as they try to shake off years of political uncertainty and pursue growth.
“Training has got to be at the heart of the upcoming Budget if the government wishes to demonstrate that it is serious about ‘levelling up’ opportunity all across the UK. Funding boosts are needed for vocational and technical education, for apprenticeships, and for incentives to help more employers provide high-quality job-related training.
“As the UK forms new economic relationships with the EU and partners across the world, businesses also need clarity on who they can recruit. As things stand, businesses don’t know who they can hire, and under what conditions, from New Year’s Day 2021. That’s unacceptable. The Government needs to act swiftly to deliver a fast, flexible new immigration system that allows firms to access staff at all skill levels, and limits upfront fees, delays and costly red tape.”
Jon Wilson, General Manager of Totaljobs, said:
“The market is very much active and hiring intentions remain strong, with Totaljobs seeing 640,000 jobs advertised alongside over 12 million job applications in Q4 2019. Yet, skills shortages continue to impact many UK businesses, as one factor contributing to the UK’s low productivity rate.
“UK businesses need to ensure they have robust training opportunities to keep the people they need. Totaljobs research shows that two thirds of UK workers have left a job due to a lack of learning and development. Clearly, learning new skills is very much tied up in job satisfaction. For SMEs particularly, training budgets can be an issue, which is why dedication and support from the government is essential in order to help the UK workforce upskill.”
The number of temporary employees in the UK fell by 8.2% on a seasonally adjusted basis to a total of approximately 1.42 million for the three-month period from October through December 2019 when compared to the same period a year ago, according to the Office for National Statistics.
Temporary workers are self-identified when surveyed by the ONS, and they include those who are on fixed-period contracts, temporary agency workers, casual workers, seasonal workers and others in temporary work.
The number of temporary employees as a percentage of total employment was 5.1%, down from 5.6% compared to the same period a year ago.
Compared to the previous period ended in November 2019, the number of temporary employees decreased by 2.5%.
Of the 1.42 million temporary employees during the period ended December 2019, approximately 361,000 were temporary because they could not find a permanent job; 396,000 did not want a permanent job; 112,600 had a contract with a period of training; and 551,900 cited other reasons.
Of the 1.42 million temporary workers, approximately 672,000 were men while approximately 749,800 were women.
ONS also published labour market figures for the three-months ended December 2019.
The UK employment rate was estimated at a record high of 76.5%, 0.6% higher than a year earlier and 0.4% up on the previous quarter. The highest employment rate estimate in the UK was in the South West (80.1%) and the lowest was in the North East (71.1%).
Estimates for October to December 2019 showed a record 32.93 million people aged 16 years and over in employment, 336,000 more than a year earlier. This annual increase was mainly driven by full-time workers (up 381,000 on the year to a record high of 24.42 million), women (up 298,000 to a record high of 15.61 million), and people aged 50 to 64 years (up 226,000 to a record high of 9.31 million).
The UK unemployment rate was estimated at 3.8%, 0.2% lower than a year earlier and 0.1% lower than the previous quarter. The highest unemployment rate estimate in the UK was in the North East (6.1%) and the lowest was in Northern Ireland (2.4%).
The UK economic inactivity rate was estimated at a record low of 20.5%, 0.4% lower than the previous year and 0.3% lower than the previous quarter.
Meanwhile, estimated annual growth in average weekly earnings for employees slowed to 2.9% from 3.2% last month for total pay (including bonuses) and to 3.2% from 3.4% for regular pay (excluding bonuses).
In real terms (after adjusting for inflation), annual growth in total pay is estimated to be 1.4% and annual growth in regular pay is estimated to be 1.8%.
Job vacancy data showed there were an estimated 810,000 vacancies in the UK for November 2019 to January 2020; this is 50,000 fewer than a year earlier and 7,000 more than the previous quarter.
ONS deputy head of labour market statistics Myrto Miltiadou said, “Employment has continued its upward trend, with the rate nudging up to another record high. In particular, the number of women working full-time grew strongly over the past year. The number of job vacancies has also increased on the quarter, after falling for most of last year.”
Jobs market shows signs of improvement as 2019 ends
The latest KPMG and REC, UK Report on Jobs showed that hiring conditions improved at the end of 2019. Permanent staff appointments rose for the first time in a year, while temp billings growth picked up from November. According to panellists, some firms had approved new hires following a long period of delayed decision-making and rising business requirements. However, rates of expansion were notably weaker than seen on average over the survey history.
At the same time, demand for staff continued to increase at a relatively sluggish pace, with vacancy growth stuck near a decade low. Lingering uncertainty related to Brexit, alongside generally tight labour market conditions, fed through to a further marked fall in candidate numbers. As a result, starting pay rose for both permanent and short-term staff, and at slightly quicker rates than in November.
December’s data signalled the first rise in permanent staff appointments for a year, though growth was only modest. The upturn was linked to higher business activity, the commencement of previously delayed hiring plans and the upcoming IR35 legislation changes. Concurrently, temp billings also rose modestly at the end of the year.
Although growth of demand for staff strengthened slightly from November, the rate of expansion remained close to a decade-low and was modest overall. While permanent vacancies rose at the quickest pace for three months, growth of demand for temp workers softened since November.
The number of people available for new roles continued to decline sharply in December, despite the rate of deterioration softening since November. Recruiters often blamed lower candidate availability to lingering uncertainty and skill shortages. Permanent staff supply contracted at a quicker pace than that seen for short-term workers.
Starting pay rose further for both permanent and temporary staff at the end of the year, with rates of growth picking up from November’s recent lows. Though sharp overall, the increases in starting salaries and temp wages remained among the softest seen over the past three years, however.
Commenting on the latest survey results, Neil Carberry, Chief Executive of the Recruitment & Employment Confederation, said:
“After the uncertainty of 2019, there are some signs of a clearer outlook for hiring in today’s survey. With a new government in place and the path ahead looking more predictable, some businesses have decided that they have waited long enough. The first increase in permanent placements for a year should give encouragement to both recruiters and employers – let’s hope this is a sign of positive things to come.
The latest KPMG and REC, UK Report on Jobs indicated that labour market conditions softened in August. Permanent placements fell at the quickest rate for over three years as many employers chose to postpone staff hiring amid heightened political and economy uncertainty. Temp billings growth meanwhile remained stuck close to a 75-month low. Total demand for staff rose at the weakest pace since the start of 2012, with both permanent and temporary vacancies rising at softer rates. An uncertain outlook also weighed on candidate numbers, as many people were reluctant to seek new roles in the current climate. However, the latest reduction in staff supply was the least marked for over two-and-a-half years. Starting pay for permanent and short-term workers consequently rose at softer rates.
Recruitment consultancies signalled that the number of people placed into permanent job roles dropped for the sixth month running in August, as many firms delayed hiring decisions due to Brexit-related uncertainty. At the same time, temp billings continued to rise only marginally. August’s data also signalled the slowest increase in total job vacancies since January 2012. Growth of demand eased for both permanent and temporary staff, with the former expanding at the slowest rate for seven years and the latter at the softest pace for a decade. Starting salaries for permanent workers continued to rise in August amid reports of greater competition for staff. Though sharp, the rate of inflation was the slowest recorded since December 2016. Meanwhile, temp pay growth edged down to a five-month low.
Although overall candidate availability deteriorated at the slowest pace for 32 months in August, the reduction remained much quicker than the historical trend. The fall was led by a further steep decline in permanent candidate numbers, as temp labour supply fell modestly.
Regionally, the Midlands, North and South of England all saw marked declines in permanent placements. Notably, it was the first reduction seen in the North of England for six months. London bucked the overall trend and saw a slight rise in permanent staff appointments in August. Temp billings growth was relatively muted in the North and South of England, while billings broadly stabilised in the Midlands. In contrast, London recorded a renewed fall, albeit only marginal. Softer increases in vacancies were seen in the private sector, while public sector staff demand remained lacklustre. Private sector permanent vacancies rose at the softest rate since January 2012, while growth of demand for temp staff eased to a 79-month low. In the public sector, permanent staff vacancies fell again, and temp staff demand rose only modestly.
Commenting on the latest survey results, Neil Carberry, REC Chief Executive, said:
“Today’s figures are a sobering reminder to politicians of all parties that national prosperity relies on businesses creating jobs and growing careers. Britain’s record on jobs is world-leading. It’s a key part of our economic success, with recruiters at the forefront of it. And there are still great opportunities out there for those looking for a new job and a boost in earnings.”
Wage growth tops expectations as unemployment falls again
Latest figures from the Official for National Statistics (ONS) show above forecast wage growth in the three months to April. Pay rose by 3.4% compared with a year ago. After taking inflation into account, wage growth was 1.4%.
The news accompanied another fall in unemployment which dropped by 34,000 to 1.3m in the three months to April. The unemployment rate remained at 3.8% and has not been lower since the October to December 1974 period, the ONS said. The number of people in work increased by 32,000 to 32.75m. The employment rate for women was 72%, the highest on record.
The rise in employment was the weakest since August and was significantly down on the average 167,000 recorded in the first quarter, although it continued to show that the UK jobs market was defying the worst fears over Brexit.
John Hawksworth, chief economist at PricewaterhouseCoopers, said: “The rate of increase in the latest three months was slower than in most previous quarters, which may be a sign that Brexit-related uncertainty is beginning to make companies more cautious about new hiring.”
John Philpott of the Jobs Economist consultancy said the rise in employment masked a drop of 38,000 in the number of workers employed by a company, with self-employed people accounting for the entire net rise. “A closer look at the figures offers a slightly different story,” he said.
Tej Parikh, chief economist at the Institute of Directors, said: “The buoyant labour market is still going strong for the UK economy, even as it weathers widespread political uncertainty.”
“However, the employment boom cannot last forever, and is certainly showing signs of softening.”