Ashley Coker, CEO and founder, Slate



The global coronavirus health emergency has made it abundantly clear how dependent we are on digital services for business continuity and social cohesion. When physical contact must be minimised, digital businesses are in a better position to rapidly adapt and continue their services and respond to customers’ needs.

This is perhaps why Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, was prompted to delay the introduction of IR35 Off-Payroll working rules to the UK private sector until April 2021, as part of his package of measures to support British businesses through the COVID-19 crisis.

While some businesses expressed relief at the delayed introduction of IR35 rules in the private sector, many financial enterprises had already terminated contracts with IT contractors in preparation for the original deadline, with the risk of digital transformation programmes stalling.


What is IR35?

Inland Revenue legislation 35 (IR35) is a tax law designed to prevent individuals from using intermediaries, such as their own limited company, in order to avoid paying their fair share of tax and national insurance contributions (NICs). By setting up a limited company, some people were able to leave their employment in a bank on a Friday and return to the same job on a Monday as an IT contractor, with no change in their role, duties, or place of employment. HMRC wants to put a stop to this.

However, with an estimated 170,000 contractors working through their own personal service companies, HMRC has not had the resource to address cases individually and decided to put the onus on the organisations that hire contractors.

From April 2021, the responsibility for assessing whether a contractor is genuinely self-employed (outside of IR35) will fall on every medium and large private sector organisation with a turnover of over £10.2 million, a balance sheet of £5.1 million, and more than 50 employees. This means that every contract will have to be reassessed to decide whether an individual’s work falls inside or outside IR35. Contractors must be provided with a Status Determination Statement (SDS) for each contract that they undertake, confirming the organisation’s assessment of their status for IR35 purposes.”


How has the financial sector prepared for IR35?

To avoid the time and resource required to scrutinise thousands of contractor contracts, many financial services organisations took a blanket decision which deems that all contractors are working inside IR35. Several prominent organisations have taken this route and terminated all contracts with contractors who bill for their services via limited companies.

Being deemed to be working inside IR35 has the effect of making hiring organisations liable for paying contractors’ income tax and National Insurance contributions at source, as though they were employees, without contractors benefiting from the sick pay and holiday pay benefits of the organisations’ employees. Tax experts have calculated that working inside IR35 will reduce contractors’ incomes by approximately 25 per cent. This makes projects less attractive to IT contractors who might be working on delivering digital change.


How does IR35 affect Digital Transformation?

Prior to the IR35 deadline extension, HSBC, Lloyds bank and Barclays bank were reported to have taken a uniform decision to classify all contractors as working within IR35. It was also reported that Deutsche Bank risked losing 50 out of 53 contractors working in its London-based change management team after taking the decision to cease working with contractors via personal service companies and asking them to join the payroll of a recruitment outsourcing agency used by the bank.

If IT contractors stop working with their financial service industry clients, to avoid falling foul of IR35 after April 2021, this could have a devastating impact on digital transformation projects that depend on the specialist skills of external contractors.

A number of contractors have reported that they plan to seek employment overseas after IR35 comes into force in the private sector, so that they can carry on enjoying the flexibility, job satisfaction and remuneration of working off-payroll. This could result in a brain drain for many sectors, such as banking, which relies heavily on the skills of external IT contractors to deliver digital transformation.


Fast track to digital delivery:

While IR35 could pose serious challenges for digital change programmes in the UK financial services sector after April 2021, some CIOs we have spoken to see the contract renewal phase as an opportunity to clear the decks, refocus and keep their best people on the pitch.

Our experience of providing corporates with highly-skilled software engineers who are born problem-solvers, who work in small, capped teams on a 5 in 50 model, has shown that they are often fundamental to getting stalled digital change programmes back on track. These developers work alongside enterprise IT teams, on a Seed, Scale, Succeed process, bringing fresh coding skills and transforming project thinking into product thinking, with continuous delivery of digital service iterations. They are technology specialists who relish the challenge of working on high profile digital journeys, but who do not wish to work as corporate employees and are therefore hard for financial services organisations to hire.

We now have another twelve months to prepare for IR35. In the meantime, as financial services organisations adapt to the demands of the pandemic, this is the time for small, agile teams of problem-solvers to shine.


Explore more