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Best umbrella company – 10 tips for contractors to choose

Contractors inside IR35, or contractors who are not sure how long they plan to spend contracting, might find that a PAYE umbrella company solution is the best trading option for them, rather than a limited company. Although not as tax efficient as a contractor limited company, the best umbrella company solution providers can offer a fast contracting solution for those not sure if contracting is their long-term career choice.

But what exactly are you buying when you sign up to umbrella companies and how do you know which is the best one for you? Here are ten tips for choosing the best for your needs:

1. Check that an umbrella company is the right trading solution for you

Limited company or umbrella – which payment structure to use? Make sure that when you are choosing between these options you choose a trading solution that best fits your needs. Explain your situation to both an umbrella company and a contractor accountant for advice on which option suits you best.

2. Dig deep into the umbrella company’s background

If an umbrella option is the right trading solution for you, make sure you check up on the firm’s background, including its credit rating and how long it has been trading. Ask if it would move your money offshore at any stage; if so, it might not be a true PAYE umbrella company and could actually be providing an offshore tax solution.

3. Make sure you get the complete picture on fees

Not all umbrella companies are transparent about their fee structures, so find out exactly how much you will be paying each week or month. Before joining a contractor umbrella scheme check if the fees are fully inclusive or if you have to pay for extras, such as expenses processing, completing tax forms and processing expenses. If it’s a free service, ask the umbrella how and why it can do this.

4. Ensure you receive a full contract of employment

As an umbrella contractor, you will become an employee of the umbrella firm. You should receive a full contract of employment from the company and enjoy all the statutory rights and benefits that UK employees are entitled to. Check before you sign up that a full contract of employment is offered.

5. Find out the process for claiming expenses

Umbrella companies making exaggerated claims about how much tax you could save by claiming contracting expenses without receipts warrant deeper investigation. If a company runs non-compliant expenses, what else may be non-compliant? A dispensation from HMRC might be claimed by the umbrella company, but this is fairly meaningless as all it means is the firm does not have to complete a P11D form for every contractor.

6. How and when you get paid

Check that the company pays you within a reasonable time of you submitting your timesheet and that there are no ‘pay when paid’ clauses in the contract. That’s because, as an employee, such clauses would not be appropriate. You should qualify for minimum wage, holiday and sick pay, which are all statutory.

7. Verify that the service includes all your tax paperwork

You may be required to submit a tax return and, if your umbrella company does not have a dispensation, you may also have to submit a P11D each year to account for your expenses. In addition, you should expect to receive from your umbrella supplier an annual P60, so check that these are included in your weekly or monthly fee, and that you won’t be charged extra.

8. Can you leave without penalties?

The company is your employer, so should not charge you any kind of exit fee. However, do check that you have adhered to your terms and conditions of employment, especially regarding notice periods and termination clauses. You may also find that your umbrella solution has withheld monies to ensure you receive holiday pay and, if you have a surplus, request that it is paid to you with your final payment.

9. Determine what help and support is available

There is every likelihood that you will enjoy a long and prosperous relationship with your clients. But it is when something goes wrong that you need help and support from your umbrella company. Say, for example, one of your client’s employees unjustly accuses you of misconduct. A reputable umbrella company’s human resources department should provide you with support and advice, which could even include representing you at a tribunal.

10. Download Contractor Calculator’s umbrella company checklist

Before choosing a supplier, be sure to download Contractor Calculator’s umbrella company checklist, so that you can ensure you are choosing the best umbrella company for your personal circumstances.

Published: Sunday, 19 December 2010

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