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Industrial Action Over IR35 Taxation

Posted on 17th April 2017

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There is industrial action in the UK due to the introduction of IR35 taxation rules for locum doctors, as reported here by the BBC. Doctors are threatening to refuse to work as locums because their work will now be covered by the new IR35 rules (for more explanation of IR35, click here).

This does not even qualify as a strike in the normal sense of the word. Locums, like so many medical professionals, are not employees, but freelancers. If the pay and conditions are not good enough they are able to withdraw their labour largely without putting themselves in breach of contract.

Medical authorities use locums when other staff are sick, on vacation, or there are staff shortages for other reasons such as bad management, usually with very short notice. Like all interim staff, they are expected to come ready trained, and work unsociable hours; they get no pay for vacations and public holidays, nor for training (they are expected to keep their knowledge and skills up to date on their own time). The can be "fired" (taken off the list of approved locums) with little or no notice. In exchange for that flexibility, they have a right to expect good pay rates.

It is not only medical locums who object to IR35. All freelance contractors (like me) dislike it (here). I am now seeing more and more jobs advertised as being covered by IR35. It is part of a decades-long campaign to make life difficult and expensive for this important sector of the workforce, by increasing their tax burden, increasing bureaucracy, and imposing hypocritical and inconsistent regulations. Freelance contractors have long been required to be employees of a company, either their own company or an umbrella management company (many UK contractors opted to have their own company) and to pay tax and national insurance on the same basis as a permanent employee; but when their contact ends (as they do) and their employment is terminated (in the case of contractors with their own companies, they have to fire themselves) they find the government unwilling to pay unemployment benefit (the government argues that firing themselves is not valid); not much of an insurance for all those NI payments! Freelancers are an important wealth generating part of the workforce, and I do not understand why the government seems to hate us so.

The bizarre thing is that the review of IR35 was one of the election promises of the current government. Well, you can't trust politicians, and certainly not their campaign promises!

I have been contracting now for very many years. That means that I have invested a great deal of my time and money in being able to do an effective job. The last time I claimed any kind of unemployment benefit was when I was a student, during vacations. The last time I made use of national health service funding for medical costs was in the 1980s. The last time that anyone other than me paid for my training or eduction was in 1996. When I work, I work long hours; I "hit the ground running"; I am available for work at short notice; and although I earn good money, I have high costs (away from home accommodation, meals and travel) and frequently have gaps between jobs with no income. I pay tax and social insurance (e.g. NI), and for that I received absolutely no benefits. I am not unusual in this. Like all contractors who work in multiple countries, I always have to worry about the risks of double taxation (the inter-country agreements on no double taxation are a joke - see here for more details.)

It is high time that governments around the world (it is not only the UK government that is at fault here) stopped treating us freelance contractors as cash-cows, realised the benefits that we provide to the economy, and treated us fairly!