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Contracting and jury service – the issues explained

Contractors can be chosen at random for jury service and, just like any other UK citizen, they are legally required to attend court. They would normally be required to serve for ten days, or potentially longer if a trial takes weeks to resolve.

It is possible for contractors to be excused from jury service, or have their service deferred, but each situation is judged by the court’s summoning officer and a request can be refused if no good reason is given.

During the period of jury service, many contractors are unable to work, or can only work for part of their day. This not only results in a loss of earnings, but could technically leave a contractor in breach of contract. Jury service expense insurance can alleviate some loss of earnings, but is usually limited in scope.

Clients and agents understand jury service is a legal obligation

Jury service affects very few limited company contractors. However, it is a statutory obligation, and so if a contractor is chosen for jury service, in most cases the client and agency accept that the contractor is unable to perform their services for the period of service.

In some circumstances you may stand a good chance of being excused from Jury service if you request it. It is accepted that some contractors often have a mission-critical role that enables them to defer or be excused from service.

For example, a specialist MoD security cleared contractor completing the final software patch on a vital weapons system who would be impossible to replace at short notice is likely to be granted a deferment!

It’s important to remember that you can only defer jury service once, and when deferring you must list the dates when you will be available over the course of the 12 months after you were due to start jury duty.

Umbrella contractors must inform their employer

The situation is different for umbrella company contractors, who have an obligation to inform their employer – their umbrella company – first. What happens next depends on the umbrella company’s policies.

Contractors working for a reputable umbrella company will have a full employment contract in place and can call on the umbrella’s human resources professionals for advice. The HR team will be able to advise on what policies their umbrella company has in place to deal with jury service situations.

The umbrella would then work with the client and agency to find a replacement for the period that the contractor is unavailable, to ensure the contractual obligations are fulfilled. Whilst a client could technically claim breach of contract if a contractor is unable to provide their services, the claim would be tenuous and jury service is generally grudgingly accepted by all concerned.

Who pays when a contractor can’t work, and how much?

It is possible for workers engaged in jury service to claim a range of expenses back from the HM Courts & Tribunals Service which would offer some compensation to contractors on lower hourly rates. However, many higher earning contractors would still be left out of pocket.

This includes claims for travel expenses, such as mileage and fares, subsistence, and compensation for loss of earnings and other expenses. The latter covers childcare and is capped at £32.47 for the first ten days if you spend four hours or less in service, and £64.95 if you spend more than four hours in service. From here on the amount increases incrementally depending on the length of the jury service.

Contractors working for umbrella companies are classed as full-time permanent employees. Though they aren’t obliged to, most reputable umbrella companies will continue to pay their contractors during jury service. However, this isn’t the case with all umbrellas, so this is one thing you might want to clarify prior to signing up to a new provider.

What if your umbrella company won’t pay?

If your umbrella won’t pay you during jury service, you can claim a loss of earnings allowance from the court. A certificate of loss of earnings will accompany your jury service letter.

It is also possible for contractors to take out an insurance policy to cover loss of earnings during a period of jury service. Members of IPSE Plus (the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self Employed) receive business interruption support which includes jury service expense insurance.

Be warned though, an insurance policy won’t cover the potential loss of earnings as a result of a long trial. For example, IPSE’s policy will only cover up to two weeks at a rate of up to £500 per day, depending on the contractor’s rates at the time.

Updated: 31 July 2017

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