20 November 2019

IR35 responsibility for worker status transfers to employers

Employee, consultant, worker, director?

Changes to the IR35 tax regime, in force for some time in the public sector, are being extended to private sector employers from 6 April 2020. IR35 Responsibility for deciding tax status is being shifted from the service company to the ultimate employer, under the Off-Payroll Working Rules. 

Many consultants, directors and other workers wanting to have "self-employed" status (or forced by employers to have it) have been engaged through personal service companies. IR35 required personal service companies to operate PAYE in a way that largely eliminated the tax benefits of the structure, but it was left to the individual and service company to decide whether it applied. As there was no risk to the ultimate employer, it did not care if IR35 was ignored, or was interpreted aggressively.

A large or medium-sized company (ie any company not classed as “small”) will have to make its own determination of whether an individual engaged through an intermediary (including his or her own personal service company) would be regarded as an employee (or office holder) for tax purposes, if the services were provided under a contract directly between it and the worker, ignoring the existence of the intermediary. If so, PAYE must be operated on payments to the service company from 6 April 2020. 

Before that date, the company must send the individual and the intermediary a “Status Determination Statement”. 

Note the reference to "office holder" - this includes non-executive directors, who are not normally  employees but are subject to PAYE tax as office holders.

Employers are likely to be far more cautious in making determinations of status than individuals have been, because the risk of failing to operate PAYE falls on the employer. The Check Employment Status Tool (CEST) is the HMRC online tool  to provide guidance, but it has been much criticised in its present form (and found wanting by the courts) and is due to be revised. Employers have to make their own judgements, and may need advice. HMRC is naturally hoping that employers will be conservative and apply PAYE to almost everyone.

The change could well result in many employers ending consultancy company arrangements and bringing consultants fully on board as employees. However, unlike employed/self-employed decisions, deciding to deduct PAYE from payments to service companies does not of itself affect the individual's employment rights status. A person engaged through a service company will not normally have employee's rights against the employer, though they may have rights as a "worker".

I can’t claim any credit for it, but there is a particularly good explanation and Q and A hereAll this is subject to any changes resulting from the forthcoming election. 

18 November 2019

First disqualified director compensation order

Banned directors can now be made to pay creditors

A director has been ordered to pay over £500,000 in compensation to creditors of a company who suffered from his misconduct, as the first compensation order made under the director disqualification regime. Where a disqualification order has been made, the director can now be ordered to compensate creditors, even if the liquidator is unable or unwilling to pursue the director.

The Secretary of State has to make the application, so the number of cases is likely to be limited by the resources of the Insolvency Service. But in egregious but otherwise hopeless cases, where insolvency practitioners probably have no funding to purse director claims, this provides a new route for creditors to make recoveries. It may become routine for compensation to be considered when disqualification proceedings are brought. Where a director gives a disqualification undertaking to the Secretary of State instead of being taken to court, a compensation undertaking can also be sought.

Published guidance on compensation orders indicates that the Secretary of State will not seek compensation orders if that would compete with claims actually being made by the liquidator or administrator. Distribution of funds can either be via the Secretary of State or by payment to the company for distribution by the liquidator.

In this case, Secretary of State v Eagling [2019] EWHC 2806 (Ch)., relating to wine investments, the director paid all the company's cash to an associate of his and fled to Northern Cyprus. He was disqualified from acting as director or being involved in business management for 15 years and ordered to pay compensation of £559,484. The court and the Secretary of State were able to direct the compensation to benefit the creditors most directly affected by the misconduct, rather than the money going into a general pool

09 November 2019

Bank liability for fraud

Negligent bank responsible even if payments are authorised per the mandate

The Supreme Court has affirmed a decision that a bank is liable to refund a customer for a fraudulent transaction otherwise properly authorised in accordance with the bank mandate, if the bank was negligent in not recognising and blocking the fraud - the "Quincecare" duty: "the bank should refrain from executing an order if and for so long as it was put on inquiry by having reasonable grounds for believing that the order was an attempt to misappropriate funds."

In this case the company was being defrauded by its own controlling director, and it is hard to see what the bank could actually have done without risking being sued for not carrying out the director's instructions.

This case potentially opens the door to thousands of claims by victims of "push payment" frauds if they can show that the bank was negligent in accepting the customer's instructions.

Singularis Holdings v Daiwa Capital Markets