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IR35 Advice Centre


IR35 Compliance Guide

IR35 Compliance Guide
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IR35 Guidance


IR35 Compliance for Contractors

Despite changes to the administration of IR35 from April 2021, the way in which it is determined remains the same.

Below we explain the main status tests that need to be considered to assess IR35, how to comply with the legislation and why. (Please note that this is only a brief guide; it is not intended to be a comprehensive analysis of employment status).

If you have any queries regarding IR35 or the below IR35 compliance guide, please do not hesitate to contact our consultancy department on 0116 2690 992 or [email protected]


Who is responsible for IR35 compliance?


The party responsible for IR35 compliance depends on when and with who you are contracting. Since 2000 when the legislation was introduced, it was the sole responsibility of the contractor, however, due to IR35 reform in both 2017 and 2021, this is not always the case.

The responsibility for IR35 lies with the contractor if:

  • you are providing services to a client in the private sector which is classed as a small company under the Companies Act 2006

The responsibility for IR35 lies with the end client/fee-payer if:

  • you are providing services to a client in the public sector
  • you are providing services to a client in the private sector which is classed as a medium or large company under the Companies Act 2006 from 6th April 2021

The off-payroll working rules, introduced in the public sector in 2017 and to the private sector in 2021, mean that it is the end client’s responsibility to determine IR35 status. It will also be the fee-payer's responsibility to deduct the relevant tax and National Insurance from source where you are determined as 'inside IR35'. For the private sector, this applies only to medium-large clients.

Every member of the contractual chain inbetween is responsible for ensuring they contribute to the compliance of an engagement by passing the status determination statement along the chain.

Read more about IR35 changes in the private sector.

IR35 Status


The key factors which determine your IR35 status


It is important to note that each working arrangement is reviewed on its own merits and all of the positive and negative elements of both the written contract and working practices will be weighed up in line with case law in order to provide a balanced opinion.​

When considering overall IR35 compliance for the entire engagement, it truly is a mixture of different factors, not simply the written terms. You should ensure that any contract proven to be outside of IR35 also matches the working practices of that engagement. So, if the contract says you are expected to provide your own equipment for the services, you should make sure that you are not using any client equipment during the provision of the services. This is because when determining IR35 status, the working practices are seen to hold more weight or are also referred to as the reality of the engagement.

What are the IR35 tests?

  • Office Holders

  • Right of Substitution/Personal Service

  • Control

  • Mutuality of Obligation (MOO)

  • Financial Risk

  • Right of Dismissal

  • Part and Parcel of the Organisation

  • Exclusive Services

  • Intention of the Two Parties




inside of a busy parliament

Public Accounts Committee publishes scathing review of IR35 reform

Government urged to address fundamental problems that continue to plague IR35

A group of cross-party MPs have urged the government to solve a number of problems resulting from the introduction of IR35 reform, in a scathing report published by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC). 

Following a comprehensive review of changes to IR35, the PAC outlined its recommendations and concerns in ‘Lessons from implementing IR35 reforms’ – a comprehensive document that exposes many of the mistakes made by the government and HMRC prior to and following the rollout of IR35 reform. 

It focuses on the fact that government bodies – who the PAC says “should be best placed to understand the rules” – owe HMRC a staggering £263m due to non-compliance, also criticising HMRC for doing “little to understand the wider impact of the reforms on workers or labour markets”. The PAC concluded that despite the introduction of these changes, “the fundamental problems underlying UK taxation of work remain.”

We focus on the details in this article…

HMRC’s IR35 guidance called into question

The PAC pointed toward the mistakes made by various government departments when implementing IR35 reform, which resulted in £263m worth of IR35 bills. The report states that such “high levels of non-compliance in central government reflect poor implementation by HMRC and other government bodies”, describing it as “not acceptable.”

As a result, HMRC was encouraged to “develop robust estimates” for non-compliance in the entire public sector, using them as a basis for the level of support required to ensure compliance across the board. The PAC said the tax office should approach private sector reform in a similar manner in six months’ time when the changes have fully bedded in.

Fresh concerns raised over CEST

HMRC’s IR35 tool (CEST) has many critics, with the PAC being one of them. Citing “problems” with the tax office’s IR35 technology, the committee said some of CEST’s questions were “difficult to interpret correctly”, with the guidance “too long”, “too general in scope” and not integrated into CEST itself. And while sensitive to the fact that IR35 status can be challenging to get right, this report makes the connection between non-compliance in the public sector and the use of this controversial tool. 

Contractors struggle to overturn wrong IR35 decisions

The report makes clear that without any independent appeals process in place, contractors have little prospect of successfully challenging an incorrect IR35 determination made by their client. Under the existing rules, should a contractor launch an appeal, the client must respond within 45 days, but if the client disagrees with the contractor’s stance there’s no independent route of appeal. 

This has become a major issue since the introduction of IR35 reform, with some more risk-averse businesses placing all contractors inside IR35 or insisting they operate via umbrella companies irrespective of contractors’ true status. Acknowledging this, the PAC called for a “fast and independent process for contractors to resolve disputes over status determinations.”

Wider impact of IR35 unexplored 

HMRC was criticised for “not doing enough” to gauge the true impact of IR35 reform on workers and labour markets. This was largely in reference to some businesses stopping in engaging contractors altogether due to reform – a trend which has seen entire contractor workforces given no other option but to operate under PAYE or have their contract cancelled. 

The committee said the tax office hasn’t carried out enough research into these wider impacts, doesn’t acknowledge evidence provided by others that shows it’s a significant issue and hasn’t established whether specific sectors have been worse affected than others.

HMRC was urged to conduct and publish specific research into how reform has affected contractors and the labour market – to ensure the changes are being “applied as intended and not adversely affecting employment opportunities.” As part of this, the tax office was told to identify industries that need sector-specific help and provide an update in six months' time.

HMRC yet to provide cost of IR35 reform

The tax office has previously claimed that IR35 reform has generated an additional £440m in tax revenue in the public sector alone – although it should be noted that this isn’t necessarily evidence of increased compliance, given many contractors have been wrongly assessed as inside IR35. 

Even so, PAC stated that they are yet to see a complete picture of the cost of the reform. With this in mind, HMRC should present an actual “cost-benefit analysis” of the changes to Parliament, exploring the cost of compliance to HMRC itself, businesses, contractors and other parties in the supply chain. 

IR35 legislation’s structural problems remain 

The report pulls no punches when focusing on the IR35 legislation’s “structural problems”, which remain despite IR35 reform. From highlighting that businesses rarely have the information they need to accurately determine IR35 status to HMRC not offsetting tax already paid by a contractor should they find a business non-compliant, the legislation “does not look sustainable” as things stand, the PAC claimed. To start, HMRC has been encouraged to review how the system is working, explore ways it could be improved and stop taxing the same income twice.

In summary, this report shines a light on many of the unintended consequences resulting from IR35 reform, along with the areas in which the government could improve. For contractors who have found themselves unfairly placed inside IR35 and businesses still struggling to get to grips with the changes, the PAC’s findings will be welcomed. But how receptive the government will be to these recommendations remains to be seen. 

Want to stay up to date with IR35 cases, Qdos' monthly updates, and other relevant self employment news? Consider subscribing to our YouTube channel.

By:Benedict Smith

IR35 Guidance


How to comply with the IR35 legislation

When it comes to complying with the IR35 legislation, you should consider the following steps:

  1. Review each engagement for IR35 status. This includes assessing both the written terms but also your working practices (the reality of the engagement) against the key factors above.
  2. Check that your working practices mirror what is detailed within your contract. The reality of the engagement holds more weight than the written terms so it is important to ensure your contract is a true reflection of the engagement.
  3. Keep a record of your due diligence. This could include copies of third-party contract reviews, a Confirmation of Arrangements and/or relevant correspondence which may help evidence your position.
  4. Ensure the relevant tax and national insurance is paid for your status. Being compliant with IR35 is often confused with being 'outside IR35', but compliance really just means paying the correct tax for your employment status. So if you are operating 'inside IR35' for an engagement, then a deemed payment must be made.
  5. Maintain up-to-date assessments of your engagements - ensuring reassessments throughout the engagement or if there are any material changes
  6. Keep an eye on relevant news for any changes or updates to how status is determined

Since April 2021, whilst it might no longer always be the contractor’s responsibility to determine their IR35 status, contractors should still be focusing on ensuring compliance within their engagements.

It is important to remember that the reform does not apply to any engagements with companies classed as small as per the Companies Act 2006 and contractors are still liable for any services provided prior to April 2021. See above for more information on who is responsible for IR35 compliance.



IR35 compliant contracts


An IR35 enquiry from HMRC will always begin with a request for copies of your written contracts relating to the accounting period in question, with proof of why you consider it to be outside of IR35. A robust contract may stop a full-blown investigation in its tracks, so it is essential to ensure compliance in this respect. A variety of status tests, outlined in this guide, are used to assess your contract, with no single test putting you inside or outside the legislation. Both the contract and working practices will require assessment as a whole using all of the status tests to determine your employment status.

​The contract does not need to be in writing - an oral or implied contract is legally binding if the parties intend it. The terms of the contract can be collected from the circumstances surrounding the engagement.

​It is not only your contract with a recruitment agency which may be assessed; in Usetech Ltd v Young the High Court decision made it clear that the "upper level" contract between the agency and the end client was to be considered in deciding the status of the worker, notwithstanding the terms of the agency's contract with the worker's Personal Service Company. Most contractors, however, will never see the upper level contract or have any rights to.

​HMRC will look to see if you have taken ‘reasonable steps’ to ascertain your status and so it is imperative to have each contract reviewed in order to display this. View our contract review services here.

Having your contract reviewed by an independent third-party expert, will give you a better idea of where your engagement sits in regard to IR35 status. While such a review gives you the IR35 status of that contract, however, in order to find out the overall IR35 status of the engagement you will also need to undertake a review of the working practices of that engagement.

Working Practices


The working practices of an engagement is how those services are provided in reality.

The written contract between the contractor and the end client could be perfect in terms of IR35, demonstrating key areas such as substitution, control, non-exclusivity and mutuality of obligation but this will also need to be proven in practice. Although the written contract remains important in determining status, should you be unfortunate enough to be subject to an IR35 enquiry, HMRC will look closely into your working relationship with your client.

​In an ideal world, we would like an IR35 friendly contract mirrored by the working relationship with the client.

If you are subject to a status enquiry by HM Revenue & Customs, the Status Inspector will normally want to obtain information from both you and the end client about the practical working arrangements of each engagement. This is known as constructing the "hypothetical contract" between the worker and the client. It is vital therefore that there is a clear understanding between you and the client about the nature of your day-to-day working relationship. This will also apply to situations where there is no written contract.

​We offer services for assessing your working practices, including a Working Practices Assessment and a free Confirmation of Arrangements document which can both be assessed by our consultancy team.


Why is IR35 compliance important?


Non-compliance with IR35 could leave you with not only the weighty cost of defending yourself against an enquiry from HMRC but also the potential burden of being saddled with the cost of any unpaid taxes should you be caught by the legislation.

Anyone can be investigated by HMRC, and should you be found to be inside IR35 but have paid tax as an outside IR35 contractor, you will be required to pay back the tax, interest and potential penalties as a result.

You should also bear in mind that an enquiry from HMRC is by no means a walk in the park, not only can these proceedings be extremely stress-inducing but they also have the potential to go on for a long time. The cost of defending yourself from an IR35 enquiry can very swiftly mount up if you don't have an insurance policy.

For services provided under the off-payroll working rules (i.e. in the public sector since 6th April 2017, or to a medium-large private sector business since 6th April 2021), you will not hold any liability as the contractor and it will be your client of fee-payer who will be subject to such an investigation in relation to these services.



Top 10 Tips for IR35 compliance


1. Have your engagements assessed for their IR35 status, by doing so you can evidence compliance with the legislation should your engagements ever come into question from HMRC. By opting for a mixed approach of both a contract and working practices review, you will have a clear picture of the reality of your engagement in terms of IR35 status.

2. Educate yourself about what IR35 might mean for your engagements and keep up to date with the legislation. By using the wealth of online articles available to you, you stand a better chance of ensuring compliance in the way you provide your services by simply knowing what could be classed as inside or outside of IR35.

3. Ensure communication within your contractual chain. By doing so, each party will know what they are accountable for. By keeping track of each other and the determination process it will be easier to make any necessary changes to better IR35 status.

4. Take care when checking that your working practices accurately reflect the written contract you have signed. Not only should you be actively monitoring the way you provide the services to ensure you are acting in a way that is compliant with the terms of your contract, but you should also be collecting evidence to prove this is the case.

5. Make sure you are providing services in a manner that is consistent with working outside of IR35 or pay the relevant taxes if not.

6. Collect evidence to show you are treated differently to your client’s employees. Examples of this would be a record of any relevant emails or other forms of contact with your client.

7. Look for contracts that are outside of IR35 at their very base level, in other words, project-based contracts rather than time-based contracts. Always have a good read of the contract before signing. Another example of this is that you should look to see that you are not individually named within the contract and are only referred to as a business.

8. Seek to attain a Confirmation of Arrangements. Having a CoA signed by your end client greatly increases your chances of successfully defending yourself from an IR35 enquiry. For more information on what a CoA is and how to attain one, see here.

9. Show you operate a genuine business and that you are not part in parcel of your end client’s company. Examples of this would be investing in stationery for your business, such as letterhead paper, or simply wearing an ID badge when attending your client’s site.

10. Have proof that you have taken financial risk on behalf of your business. Examples of financial risk would be holding relevant business insurances such as Professional Indemnity Insurance or Public Liability Insurance. Both of which we can provide for you here at Qdos.


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