If you are contemplating working through an umbrella company, you will likely spend a large amount of time comparing your options. In doing so, you will almost certainly see advertisements from umbrella companies that claim to offer “90% plus take home pay”.
As a contractor seeking to maximise their earnings, 90% take home pay sounds like a dream come true – but unfortunately, these claims can quickly turn into a nightmare.
90% take home pay is never feasible
The idea of being able to keep 90% of what you earn may be tempting, but it can only be achieved under a very specific set of circumstances. Let’s crunch the numbers:
- The rate of tax is the rate that anyone earning above the tax-free personal allowance must pay by law.
- Everyone receives a tax-free personal allowance of £11,850.
- Anything earned after this amount is taxable. This means that anyone in full-time employment must pay tax, as a full 40-hour week at the national minimum wage exceeds the tax-free allowance threshold. If you work full time, you must pay tax.
- If you earn between £11,851 and £46,350, you will pay 20% of your taxable income in tax.
- If you earn between £46,351 and £150,000, you will pay 40% in tax.
- If you earn over £150,000, you will pay 45%.
Given the above, we can conclude that unless you are earning less than your personal allowance of £11,850, you must pay tax at a rate of 20%.
So how can you legally achieve a take home pay of 90% – which is just a 10% tax rate – with an umbrella company? You can’t. It’s illegal.
So why do companies advertise 90% take home pay?
There are two reasons an umbrella company may advertise a 90% take home pay, and neither are positive:
- They are advertising this rate with a caveat – i.e. you can achieve this rate if you earn less than your personal allowance. This isn’t technically a lie as it can be true, but if you work full-time, you will definitely earn over your personal allowance – so really, it’s just marketing spin that applies to only a tiny percentage of contractors.
- More worryingly, a 90% take home pay could indicate that the umbrella company are involved in a tax avoidance scheme. If this is the case, working through such a company could have catastrophic consequences for you in the future.
HMRC and tax avoidance
Tax avoidance schemes are always illegal.
If HMRC find that you owe money in unpaid taxes, they will issue a demand for payment. You can try to argue that you did not avoid tax – your umbrella company did – but HMRC have the power to demand you ‘pay now, dispute later’. Due to this, you would still need to pay the back-taxes even if it is the umbrella company who were at fault. You could then dispute this with HMRC and claim a refund, but only after you have settled the debt in full – and even then, there’s no guarantee that the appeal would be successful.
So what should you do instead?
- Ignore companies that claim to offer you 90% take home pay, as this cannot be legal. This point cannot be overstated enough; there is no such thing as a legal or permitted tax avoidance scheme – no matter what companies claim on their website!
- Look for an umbrella company that pays you via the PAYE system
- Check all monies received to ensure that you are paying the right rate of tax for your income.
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