National Insurance tax hit for gig economy firms

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Media captionMatthew Taylor: gig economy firms should pay national insurance on workers

One department is likely to be cheering the publication of the Mathew Taylor review into the new world of work.

The Treasury will be delighted with the recommendations from Mr Taylor, the head of the Royal Society of Arts, on gig economy companies.

He is recommending that firms which have a "controlling and supervisory" relationship with their workers would have to pay a full range of benefits.

That also includes millions of pounds in national insurance contributions.

In an interview with the BBC, Mr Taylor - head of the government's review into modern employment practices - said that such people were not self-employed as many gig firms insist.

"If you are being controlled and supervised you are probably a worker and you should get workers' rights and also the employer that employs you should be paying national insurance," Mr Taylor told me.

'Control and supervision'

I asked him if such a relationship encompassed firms like Deliveroo and Uber, which say that their riders and drivers are "self-employed" and have full flexibility to work when they want.

"We do not mention individual companies in our report, but I think that if you look at some of the big gig work platforms, at the present time you would say their business models look as though it may be that the people who work for them would be classified as workers rather than as self-employed," he said.

Mr Taylor said: "If you look at the judgments that the judges have been making [about employment rights in the gig economy], it looks as though the courts are saying that it looks as though somebody is subject to control and supervision they should be described as a worker and not self-employed.

"Which, interestingly, is the same criterion used by the tax authority when they determine whether somebody is self-employed or an employee.

"We think that principle is right."

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Image caption Deliveroo riders could be in line for extra working rights

"Workers" - which Mr Taylor wants to redefine as "dependent contractors" - receive a wider range of benefits and protections compared with "self-employed" people, including sick pay, holiday entitlement and the minimum wage.

Firms which employ them are also obliged to pay national insurance contributions to HM Revenue and Customs at 13.8% of an employees' earnings above £157 a week.

Although it is difficult to judge the economic value of the gig economy, more than one million people work in the sector.

If large numbers of them are reclassified as "dependent contractors" that could significantly increase taxes paid to the government by gig firms.

'Fiscal headache'

Mr Taylor told me that government tax receipts were negatively affected by the rapid growth in the number of "self-employed" people who pay lower levels of tax than fully employed workers.

"We have a big issue about the fact there is a gap between the amount of tax we pay on self-employed labour and employed labour," he said.

"If you go back to the beginning of the welfare state, that difference was about two-thirds - we paid two-thirds as much for self-employed labour as we did for employed labour - now it is one-third.

"And at the same time self-employment has grown.

"So we are creating a fiscal headache for ourselves, and one of the things we say is over time we need to move to a situation where we pay a more similar amount."

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Chancellor Philip Hammond had to U-turn on raising national insurance tax for self-employed workers

Mr Taylor said: "So it doesn't really matter if you're an employee or self-employed - if I pay for your labour, I should pay a similar amount of tax associated with the labour.

"Doing that, as the chancellor found out in March, is extremely difficult."

In the Budget earlier in the year, Philip Hammond announced an increase in national insurance contributions paid by the self-employed.

He had to execute a U-turn a week later when it was pointed out that the move breached a Conservative pledge made at the time of the 2015 general election not to raise income tax, VAT or national insurance.

Zero hours contracts

Mr Taylor said it was time to ensure that the UK's strong ability to create employment was matched by the jobs being of good quality.

"We as a country have a great record on creating jobs and creating flexible jobs and flexible work is a good thing and most people who work flexibly - whether they are gig workers, zero hours workers, part time workers - enjoy working in a flexible way.

"But we have an issue with the quality of work in our economy. That issue is particularly problematic at the bottom end of the labour market for lower skilled workers."

Mr Taylor said that zero hours contracts should not be banned - as Labour has demanded - but that people on them should be allowed the "right to request" a move to full-time employment, as the BBC revealed in May.

He admitted that it "would be hypocritical" if the review said they should be banned as the RSA uses them.

"I actually run an organisation that occasionally has zero-hours workers, they come and work when we have weddings in this house," he told me, referring to the RSA's headquarters in central London.

"Most people who work zero hours chose to work that way.

"We shouldn't be in the business of trying to stop people doing something which works for them."

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