National Insurance  

How Covid-19 has reignited the national insurance debate

This article is part of
Guide to advising the self-employed amid Covid-19

It is difficult to predict what changes may arise from such a broad comment by the Chancellor.

Mr Timms says there could be some changes to the NI system, but it could also be interpreted that the comment was in relation to the tax treatment of dividends. 

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For example, there may be changes afoot to the rates of tax, that could perhaps see the abolition of the dividend allowance (currently £2,000 for 2020/21; reduced from £5,000 in 2017/18 to £2,000 from 2018/19 onwards).

Andrew Chamberlain, director of policy at The Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed (IPSE) believes Mr Sunak could try to raise the rate of Class 4 NI which is paid by sole traders.

"This would mean they would be paying more in total tax and NI than comparable employees, which would feel unfair, and still wouldn’t bring in as much as addressing the real problem – employers’ NI," Mr Chamberlain adds.

“There is little difference between the total NI paid by employees and the total NI paid by self-employed sole traders. However, a hiring organisation that employs someone will have to pay employers’ NI at 13.8 per cent. 

“If they instead engage that person on a self-employed basis, they won’t pay NI at all. If the Chancellor truly wants to address the imbalance in NI payments, he must focus on the hiring organisations, not the individuals.”

In terms of national insurance, in 2018 the government at that time announced that Class 2 National Insurance would be abolished, which Mark Hook, tax partner at accountants Rowleys, believes is the most sensible way to streamline the tax position of the self-employed. 

Mr Hook says: "The reason the abolition did not go ahead however was put down to the impact on those with lower profits and the impact on the pension position. 

"The current crisis could be the catalyst for this to be reconsidered.  I believe some focus from the government on abolishing Class 2 National Insurance and increasing Class 4 National Insurance to be in line with Class 1 NIC would be beneficial. 

"There would need to be a safety net however for self-employed people who earned less than the starting rate for Class 4 contributions.  This should be considered in conjunction with the tightening up of the specific areas around workers’ rights, ensuring that certain self-employed workers are able to achieve similar rights to those that are employed, given that essentially they would be paying the same amount of National Insurance."

Levelling the field

Mr Starmer believes the chancellor should ignore income tax, except for scrapping the dividend surcharge, but level out NI contributions firstly between the standard employed person who is not a shareholder and the true self-employed person while providing the same or vaguely similar benefits.