HR · 24 March 2017

Britain’s freelancers call for a statutory definition of self-employment

Freelancers have four main criteria for a new definition of self-employment

The body representing the UK’s self-employed workforce has called for a statutory definition of self-employment to end confusion around who is and isn’t officially self-employed.

The Association of Independent Professionals and the Self Employed (IPSE), whilst giving evidence to Matthew Taylor’s review of modern employment practices, has called for a definition to be written into law.

The organisation, which speaks for Britain’s freelancers, contractors, consultants and other independent professionals, wishes to see a new definition of self-employment introduced based on four main criteria.

Having autonomy in work should be a defining principle of self-employment according to the IPSE which, for freelancers, would mean having an ability not to work outside an agreement already in place, and to send a replacement if necessary.

Self-employed people should also be guaranteed an element of control over their working arrangements, including the ability to decide how to complete tasks at a time and place of their choosing.

The statutory definition should also acknowledge that self-employed people take on their own risk, and are in and of themselves responsible for their own finances and tax duties.

Finally, self-employed individuals should be officially warranted a level of independence from their clients that goes beyond that of employees, such as an ability to use their own tools on a job should they wish, or wear their own clothes as opposed to a uniform.

Commenting on the move, the IPSE’s policy director, Simon McVicker, said that a statutory definition had now become necessary to avoid exploitation. “To be an employee is defined in statute as is being a worker, but somehow to be self-employed is the default of everything else.

“This is a rather negative position and it creates confusion as it lacks clarity. We want a positive definition so the genuinely self-employed have peace of mind and unscrupulous companies cannot exploit the confusion and push people into false self-employment,” he said.

In the UK, there are currently statutory definitions in place of what it means to be an “employee” as well as what it means to be classified as a “worker”, but no law that officially defines the parameters of self-employment.

It is hoped that the Taylor review, the full findings of which are due to be published this summer, will address many legal and tax-related issues associated with the recent rise of new UK employment practices, and provide an updated definition of self-employment.

According to the IPSE, the Taylor review should also seek to develop fairer maternity, paternity and childcare support for the self-employed, and look to find new ways to encourage pension uptake and savings.

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Fred Heritage was previously deputy editor at Business Advice. He has a BA in politics and international relations from the University of Kent and an MA in international conflict from Kings College London.