A few disreputable haulage companies are offering highly dubious tax status advice to people notionally regarded as ‘self-employed drivers’. |
In some cases their advice may be wrong due to ignorance, but in others they are deliberately trying to offload their tax and NI liabilities onto innocent drivers. The results for the drivers themselves could be severe and involve trouble with HMRC.
What’s Going On?
If you’re a company running a fleet of vehicles and employing drivers, then a fair component of your cost base arises from your employee expenses. Any of those you can offload, including the liability to collect and pay tax and NI for those employees, is going to save you money, time and effort.
Some haulage companies are therefore trying to persuade drivers to start regarding themselves as being ‘self-employed’ in order to reduce their costs and thereby permit them to offer lower prices in this very competitive industry.
The problem is that HMRC (aka the Tax Office) doesn’t accept that an individual driving vehicles for another company is, typically, ‘self-employed’. They are very aware of the attempt of some employers to bypass mandatory contributions in such a fashion.
There is also a health and safety issue, as some employers aren’t paying the required employer’s liability insurance premiums they should and covering their employees accordingly.
HMRC take a very dim view of schemes where a company tries to describe their employees as ‘self-employed’, so some haulage companies are trying to work around that by offering inappropriate advice to individual drivers to “work on a self-employed basis” even when such an option isn’t open to them.
Top Tips to Protect Your Interests
If you are a driver thinking of going self-employed based on advice from a potential customer, here are some top tips to keep in mind:
• Your potential customer is NOT accountable for your tax affairs. YOU ARE! So, discuss your exact situation with HMRC and get the facts from the horse’s mouth so to speak.
• That same customer is almost certainly NOT an impartial tax advisor. Their interests and yours are not one and the same in this respect.
• Typically, HMRC will not accept your status as being self-employed if you drive for another company using their vehicles and operating licences etc.
• You can also be fairly sure that the same will apply even if you drive for several different haulage companies under the same auspices as above.
• In order to be considered self-employed, you will need to be the registered owner of your own vehicle and have operating licences and insurance in your own name or that of your own company. Don’t listen to any advice to the contrary unless it comes from HMRC or perhaps your own qualified accountant.
HMRC are usually highly unimpressed by claims along the lines of “XYZ told me differently” and keep in mind that, under law, ignorance is rarely an acceptable defence.
The penalties for transgression here can be severe, both for the driver concerned and for the company notionally hiring their services. Be wary of any suggestions from haulage companies that going self-employed is an easy way to save money on tax and NI – unless you enjoy the prospect of some very long and painful discussions with HMRC and possibly the courts.
Norman Dulwich is a Correspondent for Haulage Exchange, the leading online trade network for the road transport industry. Connecting professionals across the UK and Europe through their website, Haulage Exchange provides services for matching haulage companies with jobs in road transport and haulage work. Over 4,000 transport exchange businesses are networked together through their website, trading jobs and capacity in a safe 'wholesale' environment.
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