The last time I wrote about IR35 was early last summer when I discussed the changes that had been made with regard to the IR35 status of contractors in the public sector, ultimately being a shift in the responsibility for determining the IR35 status from the contractor to the engaging body.
Some of you may have recently read about HMRC first successful IR35 ruling since 2011 relating to BBC presenter Christa Ackroyd and her personal service company. Your read that right, HMRC have not won a successful IR35 case for six years. That goes to show just how complicated the IR35 legislation is when HMRC themselves have such a poor track record at enforcing it. I certainly don’t believe that this is because in those six years, Ms Ackroyd was the only contractor falling on the wrong side of the rules.
This case was heard in the First Tier Tribunal, which thankfully means that it can set no precedent as it currently stands, although it is understood that HMRC have a number of other BBC freelancers under investigation. It is however an indication that HMRC are seeking to pay closer attention to IR35 and with the changes last April, I do not think it will be too long before another shake up is afoot.
Further to this, on 7 February HMRC launched three consultations on employment status in the wake of the Matthew Taylor Review of Modern Working Practices. None of these are in any way specific to IR35 but in light of organisations such as Uber and Deliverroo and the increasing prevalence of the gig economy, it is clear that the current employment status legislation is not fit for the modern economy and HMRC know it.
It has been muted in various arenas that the next chapter in the IR35 story may see a mirroring of the 2017 public sector changes within the private sector. This would put the risk and responsibility of IR35 squarely on the engaging organisations, preventing them from ‘passing the buck’. For some freelancers this might be a welcome relief, but for many it will be a costly exercise indeed. Only time will tell.
This article originally appeared in the April/May edition of Wiltshire Business