James Coney  

How should the Chancellor tackle self-employed tax?

James Coney

James Coney

When he casually suggested that all workers should pay their way towards the benefit system as he announced the bailout for the self-employed, chancellor of the exchequer Rishi Sunak put a new fracture in a fault line that had not stirred for a few years.

What he was implying was a hike in national insurance rates, which as I said a couple of weeks ago, has been on the cards ever since we had the new state pension and the state second pension was scrapped.

Since this hint from the chancellor, the fault line has been rumbling away.

When he leaves his home after lockdown he may notice he is in the middle of a rather major earthquake.

At the heart of the issue over self-employed tax is what you consider personal and corporate tax and the risks and responsibilities of running your own company.

On the most simplistic level you can look at income taxes and national insurance across employees, the self-employed and those that take dividends through a limited company.

On a very basic level, if you include employer national insurance contributions, the employed person has 34 per cent of the income taken in tax, the self-employed person 21 per cent and the dividend payer 19 per cent.

I have had lots of debate over this issue, largely with the self-employed and accountants, and I am yet to hear any reason for taking dividends as an income other than it produces a lower personal tax rate than taking a salary. 

I am not saying that is right or wrong, just a pragmatic fact.

So, now comes the first argument, over risk. Should the self-employed benefit from lower tax rates because they have personal responsibility, and often with it safeguarding other people’s jobs? 

But then you have to weigh in the pros and cons of being employed and self-employed: the freedom, the accountability, and the perks, including issues such as sick leave and death in service benefits, which the self-employed do not get.

And this brings us to a pension.

Many self-employed say they should have a lower rate because they do not qualify for a company pension.

But surely a company pension is not a matter for the state, but rather a contractual relationship between an employer and an employee – that is why different grades of employees have different pension schemes.

Then finally is the complex issue of corporation tax. Those running limited companies say that any comparison of employed taxes has to include corporation tax that their company would pay.

But should you then not also include corporation tax for the employed person?

They, after all, help produce the profit for the company.

And even if you can argue against this, you could at least make a case for salaried executive directors, since they have the same legal responsibilities as the self-employed director.

If you do not do this, then at what stage do you stop including corporation tax in a directors earnings?