Off Payroll rules and the rise in non-compliance in the public sector

jenga blocks with one block sticking out with the word risk written in capital letters on it

Please note: this blog was written before the IR35 implementation date was delayed to April 2021, however the information contained in this blog is still relevant and helpful.

Commercial Manager Charlie Cox discusses the rise in non-compliance in the public sector and what you need to do to remain compliant and minimise risk.

Following the IR35 reform in the public sector in 2017, SThree and our brands have been supporting customers to engage with their contract workforce compliantly.

Unfortunately, it has become more commonplace to see non-compliant providers in the market putting public sector businesses and individuals at significant risk.

The government introduced new corporate offences of failure to prevent the facilitation of tax evasion contained in the Criminal Finances Act 2017 which came into force on 30th September 2017.

The act makes businesses liable for the actions of their employees and other ‘associated persons’ who intentionally facilitate tax evasion. Businesses will be liable even in cases where senior management were either uninvolved or unaware of the acts. Those found guilty will potentially face unlimited fines, a criminal record, and will be barred from public sector procurement.

Non-compliant payment models and the Criminal Finance Act

Let’s look at the act and how it could manifest itself in one of the many recent examples that we have been made aware of.

A public sector client, rather than choosing to engage a contractor by the agency who introduced them, decided to engage them through another agency.

Why did they do that?

They did it because the contractor had requested to work through this agency as they would allow them to use a non-compliant umbrella company and the agency would also introduce them to companies that used non-compliant models. As a result of this, the contractor would receive a higher take home or net retention on their earnings than they should have received, due to the umbrella company offering a non-compliant model. The contractor was aware of the scenario and actively pursued/sought to use the model to increase their take home pay.

The agency involved knew that the umbrella company were not offering compliant services but worked with them as they knew it would result in more business. The client were facilitating the act by allowing this to happen whilst knowing the reasons for the use of the non-compliant providers.

In this scenario there is fraudulent tax evasion by the tax payer, criminal facilitation of the tax evasion by the person associated with the relevant body and a failure of the relevant body to prevent the person associated from committing the criminal facilitation act.

Does this sound familiar to you?

Client determines Inside, agency pays Outside (yes, really)

This is another example of some of the non-compliant behaviour we are aware of in the public sector. Some agencies, despite receiving a very clear Inside IR35 determination from a client will ignore this determination and continue to make gross payments to a contractor’s limited company. By purposely breaching the legislation they hope to gain a competitive edge.

This practice puts the contractor and the agency at risk, and after an investigation, should the agency disappear, the end client will be the one left with the tax liability, fines and negative PR.

How to stay compliant and minimise risk

All of this is avoidable by only working with compliant providers. Progressive Recruitment, part of the SThree group of companies, are a compliant PLC - we conduct a tender process every two years to select an Approved Supplier List (ASL) of Umbrella Companies who have to pass a very strict compliance checking process before being able to tender. All five of our ASL companies are FCSA accredited which is widely recognised as the industry’s compliance gold standard.

If the contractor is using a limited company and we receive an Inside IR35 determination, we have a process in place to make the Deemed Payment in line with the legislation.

If the contractor is using a limited company and we receive an Outside IR35 determination, then we make the gross payment as contractually agreed -again, in line with the legislation.

In short, trading through us, you are in safe hands.

If you are a client, what should you do next?

  • Look at your agencies and the supply chain below them
  • Ask suppliers for evidence of compliance if you have any concerns
  • Train and educate your hiring managers on the risks of facilitating non-compliant supply chain providers.

If you are a contractor, what should you do next?

  • Ensure that you are only working with reputable agencies. If you have any doubts about the current supply chain you are in or the payment mechanism, make sure you ask questions
  • Ensure that the determination provided by the client for the assignment you are working on mirrors that in the way you are being paid.

If you would like to discuss any specific concerns, please contact myself or our Public Sector Partner Kellie Kwarteng and we'll be happy to help. You can also access all of our available IR35 resources here.


Progressive Recruitment is part of the SThree group of companies. This document/article is for information purposes only, and should not be seen as providing legal or tax advice. SThree and its family of brands, advises clients and contractors to seek independent legal and/or tax advice, where required.

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