The digital tool intended to help identify whether a worker is inside or outside IR35 has been somewhat backwards in coming forwards.
HMRC has consistently delayed both the development and delivery of the new Employment Status Service (ESS), raising the concerns of many working in the IR35 and contracting industries.
The tool had been set to come out in late February, but with that now having come and gone, the HMRC have sneakily updated their site to now read ‘early March’.
Though certain previews have been given to interested parties, the consistent delays in a time where IR35 is such a hot topic given the upcoming public sector reforms, has brought about much frustration and chagrin.
And some say that, given this uncertainty, now is already too late.
“It is absolutely unacceptable that the tool isn’t available yet,” said Andy Chamberlain, Deputy Director of Policy at IPSE. “We last heard it would be available today or tomorrow – but even if it is, this is disastrously late. We still have big doubts over how well it will work, but the fact that it’s not available at all is leading to public sector bodies declaring that all engagements are inside IR35, without doing any kind of assessment. And that is leading to contractors walking out.”
But there might finally be some light at the end of the tunnel, as it looks like the tool has just made it to the Gov.UK website https://www.tax.service.gov.uk/check-employment-status-for-tax/setup).
The first question asks ‘Which of these describes you best?’ and offers three options: the worker, the end client, or the agency paying the worker.
From there, a series are questions are asked and depending on the answers, the verdict is eventually given.
The problems may not be over just yet though, with Chamberlain warning: “When the tool is made available, there will be no time to point out any flaws in it. So unless it’s perfect, thousands of engagements will be assessed inaccurately.”
Whether the tool is indeed perfect will be quickly found out, and if there are problems, the long-running fiasco around the ESS tool may still rumble on.