What is a Managed Service Company and why do you need to know?

Posted by David on December 31, 2016
CIS, HMRC, News articles, Status

Can you spot the difference between a Managed Service Company (MSC) and a Personal Service Company (PSC)? If not, you may be subject to not only reputational, but also financial risks.

We suspect many hirers of labour feel little incentive to try to understand how their temporary workers (if engaged through an ‘agency’) are actually paid, or how any contractors’ business operates. However, when undertaking Employer Compliance Reviews (sometimes using the euphemism of ‘Know Your Customer’) we do now see HMRC expecting the hirer or ‘Client’ to take an active role in policing the arrangements. A recent Tax Tribunal decision has also now brought this matter into sharper focus.

In fact it can be very difficult to identify the difference between a legitimate intermediary e.g. an employment agency which makes payment to contractors via different (authentic) routes including PSCs, and the riskier type of operation which perhaps offers the contractor an off the shelf ‘complete payment solution’ albeit where the worker is also paid by ‘their own’ limited company.

If the contractor trades through a PSC, they can expect to be subject to the IR35 considerations. In short the IR35 rules say that if the worker would be an employee of the hirer but for the interposition of the PSC, then the PSC must account for PAYE/NIC on nearly all the income from that contract (NB: if they supply their services to a Public Authority client then, under new rules which apply from 6 April 2017, the Public Authority must take that IR35 decision, with tax/NIC being withheld from the PSC at source).

Whilst application of the IR35 rules appear to be in a constant state of flux, the advantage from the hirer’s perspective is that (outside of the Public Sector) these rules must be considered solely by the contractor company rather than the hirer.

MSCs on the other hand are potentially much more troublesome. They tend to be run by organisations and individuals who are not risking significant capital; hence these businesses can be ‘folded’ in the event of any significant HMRC enquiries (and they often are). If this happens, MSC rules indicate that any unpaid PAYE/ NIC duties may then be transferred further ‘up the supply chain’ to any other person or business who has encouraged or been actively involved in the MSC arrangements. Thus any attempt by the hirer to ‘shoehorn’ workers through a particular agency etc engagement route (perhaps based on a lower cost margin charged by that agency etc) could be seen as ‘encouragement’, and if so this becomes a PAYE/NIC risk for the hirer.

Although the MSC rules were introduced to significant fanfare back in 2007, little has been heard of these since, so there may be a temptation to think that the legislation has been forgotten about. However a recently published Tax Tribunal decision (involving Christianuyi Limited and others v HMRC, TC05045) indicates that HMRC is indeed taking a more robust approach. The case has only proceeded to the First Tier Tribunal and therefore does not yet constitute legal precedent, however it gives a good indication of how HMRC is likely to perceive the difference between a compliant and a non-compliant business.

We can therefore expect to see some further publicity from HMRC over the coming months, as they seek to gain traction from this (perhaps belated) Tribunal success. As a first step, on 7 November 2016 HMRC issued some guidance entitled ‘Use of Labour Providers‘. This was HMRC’s suggestion of a ‘due diligence’ approach which end-users or hirers of workers’ services ought to adopt. This guidance included reference to various statutory obligations, mixed in with a number of ‘recommendations’ (the latter may reflect ‘best practice’ in HMRC’s eyes, but these are non-statutory and may not always be achieved by the hirer, realistically). Nonetheless the document is an accurate reflection of HMRC’s intention to challenge non-compliant payment arrangements, including those offered by some Managed Service providers.

So what do you need to do? If the end-user client makes payment via a reputable employment business or agency, then the agency is likely to be first in the firing line (i.e. because the it is the agency rather than the end-user client which will then decide whether to engage with any ‘MSC’). However the business which hires the worker should also be aware of the distinctions. Often there will be several contractual layers in the engagement chain, and it is difficult to know how temporary workers are actually being paid. At the very least the hirer or Client will not wish to be tainted by association, with potentially negative publicity and reputational damage if it were to appear that they have (at best) acquiesced to large numbers of their workers being paid via non-compliant methods.

For any organisation seeking to persuade HMRC that the MSC legislation is not in point, it would be very useful to be able to show that any ‘PSC’ maintains full control of its own company bank account. This would include paying its own VAT and Corporation Tax bills as they become due, rather than a third party merely deducting these sums as a percentage of total contractual income. The PSC should also take personalised decisions on how each director and/or shareholder is to be paid or rewarded (rather than following a prescribed ‘off the shelf’ payment methodology).

Engaging a third party adviser to help with the mechanics of running a PSC should not be a problem so long as bespoke advice is given and the adviser’s fees are not set as a regular proportion of the income from the contract.

If you would like any assistance in this complex area please of course contact us.

 

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