Navigating IR35: Protecting Your Business With Contract Reviews

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IR35, also known as the "off-payroll working rules," is a set of tax regulations in the United Kingdom aimed at identifying individuals who should be classified as employees for tax purposes, even if they work through their own limited companies or as self-employed contractors. 

The legislation is designed to prevent tax evasion and ensure that individuals who perform roles similar to employees pay the appropriate taxes.

A contract review service plays a pivotal role in ensuring compliance with IR35. They involve scrutinizing the terms and conditions of contracts between businesses and contractors to determine whether they accurately reflect the working relationship and employment status.

Failing to conduct thorough contract reviews can leave your business vulnerable to financial penalties and reputational damage.

Understanding IR35

IR35 was introduced by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) to address the issue of "disguised employment." It seeks to differentiate genuine self-employment from arrangements where individuals are essentially functioning as employees but working through intermediaries such as personal service companies.

Understanding IR35

IR35 was introduced to tackle tax avoidance. Prior to its implementation, some individuals classified themselves as self-employed to reduce their tax liabilities. IR35 was created to ensure that those who should be taxed as employees are, in fact, taxed as such.

Who does IR35 apply to?

IR35 applies to businesses that engage contractors through intermediaries, such as PSCs. It also applies to the contractors themselves. Both parties have responsibilities to determine and ensure compliance with IR35.

Penalties for non-compliance

Non-compliance with IR35 can result in significant financial penalties, including backdated tax payments and National Insurance contributions. Additionally, your business can face penalties for failing to carry out proper due diligence and not deducting the appropriate taxes from payments to your contractors.

The role of contract reviews

Contract reviews serves as a crucial safeguard for your business, offering a shield against potential pitfalls and liabilities.

Importance of well-drafted contracts

Well-drafted contracts provide clarity, define expectations and establish the terms and conditions governing the working relationship between your business and contractors. In the context of IR35, the significance of well-drafted contracts cannot be overstated for several reasons:

  1. Clarity and transparency 

A well-drafted contract leaves no room for ambiguity. It clearly defines the roles, responsibilities, and obligations of both parties. Clarity reduces the likelihood of disputes and misunderstandings, which can be particularly problematic when navigating the intricate rules of IR35.

  1. Alignment with reality 

Contracts should accurately reflect the actual working relationship. Failure to align your contract with the true nature of the engagement can trigger IR35 scrutiny. Thus, well-drafted contracts ensure that your business and its contractors are on the same page regarding the nature of the work.

  1. Risk mitigation

Effective contracts can help mitigate the risk of IR35 issues. By specifying key terms such as control, substitution, and mutuality of obligation correctly, you can reduce the likelihood of IR35 challenges from HMRC.

How contract reviews can protect your business

Contract reviews, act as a proactive defense mechanism for your business. They involve a meticulous examination of the terms and conditions in your contracts to ensure that they accurately represent the working relationship. Here's how contract reviews protect your business:

  1. Risk mitigation

By scrutinizing contracts for IR35 compliance, you can identify and rectify potential issues before they escalate. This proactive approach reduces the risk of costly penalties, backdated taxes, and legal disputes.

  1. Cost savings 

Contract reviews can save your business substantial money in the long run. By rectifying non-compliant contracts, you can avoid unexpected tax liabilities and fines, ensuring that your finances remain healthy.

  1. Reputation management 

IR35 non-compliance can damage your business's reputation. Public perception can be unforgiving, and news of non-compliance may deter clients and contractors alike. Contract reviews help protect your reputation by ensuring compliance and ethical business practices.

Identifying IR35 risks in contracts

One of the primary objectives of contract reviews is to unearth potential IR35 risks lurking within your agreements. Here are some key areas to focus on when identifying these risks:

  1. Control clauses

Scrutinize clauses related to control. IR35 assesses whether the client exerts excessive control over the contractor's work. Look for clauses that grant the client the right to dictate how, when, and where the contractor performs their duties.

  1. Substitution clauses 

Check for substitution clauses in your contracts. IR35 often hinges on whether a contractor has the unfettered right to send a substitute worker in their place. The absence of such a clause can raise red flags.

  1. Financial risk

Assess the financial risk borne by the contractor. In an IR35-compliant engagement, contractors should bear the cost of any errors or rework. Contracts that shield contractors from financial risk may be viewed as indicative of disguised employment.

  1. Mutuality of obligation

Analyze whether there is a mutual obligation for the client to provide work and the contractor to accept it. In true self-employment, the engagement should be project-based without an ongoing commitment to provide work.

Contract reviews are a proactive measure that not only protects your business from the legal and financial ramifications of IR35 but also enhances transparency and trust in your working relationships. They are your first line of defense in the intricate world of IR35 compliance.

Conducting a contract review 

Conducting a comprehensive contract review is essential for IR35 compliance. It involves assessing whether contracts accurately represent the working relationship's nature and align with the regulations established by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC).

Similarly, ensuring conformity with the rules governing customs declaration is crucial for businesses involved in international trade, streamlining the process and meeting regulatory obligations.

Conducting a Contract Review

Steps to review a contract for IR35 compliance

Assessing the Employment Status: The first step in a contract review is to determine the employment status of the contractor. This involves evaluating the entire working relationship to establish whether it resembles that of an employee or that of a genuinely self-employed individual. Consider factors such as:

  • The degree of control the client exerts over the contractor's work.

  • The presence of substitution clauses allows the contractor to send a substitute in their place.

  • The level of financial risk shouldered by the contractor.

  • The existence of a mutual obligation for the client to provide work and the contractor to accept it.

A clear understanding of these factors will help you make an informed assessment of the contractor's employment status.

Identifying control and substitution clauses 

Review the contract for clauses related to control and substitution. HMRC places significant emphasis on control when assessing IR35 compliance. Look for any clauses that grant the client excessive control over how, when, and where the contractor performs their duties.

Additionally, check for substitution clauses that allow the contractor to send a substitute worker in their place without client intervention.

Analyzing financial risk 

Examine the contract to gauge the financial risk shouldered by the contractor. In a genuinely self-employed relationship, contractors typically bear the cost of any mistakes, rework, or other financial risks associated with the work. Contracts that shield contractors from these risks may raise red flags in an IR35 review.

Determining mutuality of obligation

Evaluate whether there is a mutual obligation between the client and the contractor. In an IR35-compliant engagement, the relationship should be project-based, with no ongoing commitment for the client to provide work and the contractor to accept it. The absence of such a mutual obligation is a key indicator of self-employment.

Common IR35 pitfalls to watch out for

When conducting a contract review, it's essential to be vigilant and watch out for common IR35 pitfalls that can jeopardize compliance. Some of these pitfalls include:

  1. Vague contracts 

Contracts that lack clarity and specificity can lead to misunderstandings and disputes. Ensure that your contracts clearly outline the terms and conditions of the engagement, including the nature of the work, payment terms, and any relevant clauses related to control, substitution, and financial risk.

  1. Inconsistent working practices 

While the contract is a crucial document, HMRC also considers the actual working practices. If the working practices contradict the terms of the contract or suggest a different employment status, it can trigger IR35 scrutiny. Ensure that the working practices align with the contract.

  1. Ignoring the reality of the working relationship 

It's not enough for the contract to state that a contractor is self-employed; the working relationship must genuinely reflect this status. HMRC assesses the substance of the relationship over its legal form. Ignoring the reality of the working relationship in favor of the contract terms can lead to non-compliance.

  1. Overlooking the impact of recent legislation

Be aware of changes in legislation and IR35 case law. Recent developments may impact how contracts are interpreted and what is considered indicative of disguised employment. Staying up-to-date is vital for accurate contract reviews.

Seeking professional guidance 

Navigating the intricate waters of IR35 compliance can be a challenging endeavor, and often, it's wise to seek professional guidance to ensure that your business remains on the right side of the law. 

Seeking Professional Guidance

When to consult legal or tax experts

Determining when to consult legal or tax experts can be pivotal in safeguarding your business against IR35 pitfalls. Consider seeking professional guidance in the following scenarios:

  1. Complex engagements 

If your contracts and working arrangements are exceptionally complex, involving multiple parties, international elements, or intricate legal structures, it's advisable to consult experts who specialize in IR35.

  1. Ambiguity in employment status 

When the employment status of a contractor is unclear, and you need a precise determination to mitigate potential risks, legal or tax experts can provide clarity.

  1. IR35 disputes or investigations 

If your business is facing an IR35 dispute with HMRC or is undergoing an investigation, professional representation can be crucial. Experts can help navigate the legal process and advocate on your behalf.

  1. Changing legislation 

As IR35 regulations and case law evolve, it can be challenging to keep up with the latest changes. Consulting experts ensure that you remain compliant with the most current legal interpretations and requirements.

Benefits of professional advice

Engaging legal or tax experts for IR35 matters can yield numerous benefits that go beyond mere compliance:

  1. Expertise and experience 

Professionals specializing in IR35 possess extensive knowledge and experience in navigating the complexities of the legislation. Their expertise can help you make informed decisions.

  1. Risk mitigation 

Experts can identify potential IR35 risks that you might overlook. They can offer strategies to mitigate these risks and ensure that your contracts and working practices align with IR35 requirements.

  1. Legal safeguards 

Expert advice provides a legal safeguard for your business. In the event of an IR35 dispute or investigation, having professionals in your corner can make a significant difference in the outcome.

  1. Time efficiency 

Engaging experts can save you valuable time and resources. They can handle the intricate details of IR35 compliance, allowing you to focus on your core business operations.

Cost considerations

While seeking professional advice can be immensely beneficial, it's important to consider the associated costs:

  1. Initial consultation 

Many experts offer an initial consultation at no cost or a reduced fee. This allows you to assess whether their services are suitable for your needs.

  1. Ongoing costs 

The cost of professional advice can vary depending on the complexity of your situation, the services required, and the expertise of the professionals you engage. Consider obtaining quotes from different experts and comparing their offerings.

  1. Cost vs. risk 

Evaluate the potential financial risks of IR35 non-compliance against the cost of professional advice. In many cases, the cost of compliance is significantly lower than the penalties and backdated taxes associated with non-compliance.

  1. Tax deductibility 

In some cases, the costs of professional advice related to IR35 compliance may be tax-deductible. Consult with a tax advisor to explore potential tax benefits.

Mitigating IR35 risks 

Effectively mitigating IR35 risks is crucial for maintaining compliance and safeguarding your business against potential financial penalties and legal challenges.

Mitigating IR35 risks

Strategies to minimize IR35 risks

  1. Contractual changes

  • Amending Problematic Clauses: If a contract contains clauses that may trigger IR35 scrutiny, consider amending them to align with the intended working relationship. For example, clarify control-related clauses to minimize the client's influence over the contractor's work.

  • Introducing Substitution Clauses: If applicable, introduce or strengthen substitution clauses in your contracts. These clauses allow the contractor to send a substitute worker in their place, emphasizing self-employment.
  1. Revised payment terms 

Adjust payment terms to reflect a genuine self-employment relationship. Self-employed contractors are typically paid per project or milestone rather than receiving regular salaries or hourly wages.

  1. Structuring engagements

  • Alternative engagement models: Explore alternative engagement models that reduce IR35 risks. Options may include utilizing umbrella companies or transitioning to PAYE arrangements, depending on the specific circumstances of the engagement.

  • Multiple clients: Encourage contractors to maintain multiple clients simultaneously. Having a diverse client base is a strong indicator of self-employment and reduces the risk of being classified as a disguised employee.
  1. Evidence of self-employment

  • Maintain independence: Ensure that contractors maintain a degree of independence. This can include having their own workspace, equipment, and professional indemnity insurance. Such indicators of self-employment strengthen your case.

  • Evidence of business activity: Contractors should exhibit business-like behavior, such as marketing their services, obtaining their own clients, and investing in their professional development. This reinforces the image of self-employment.

  • Financial autonomy: Contractors should bear financial responsibilities, such as covering their own business expenses, insurance, and tax liabilities. Demonstrating financial autonomy bolsters their self-employment status.

Importance of ongoing monitoring and updates

Mitigating IR35 risks is not a one-time task; it requires ongoing diligence and monitoring. Here's why continuous attention is crucial:

  1. Changing circumstances 

The working relationship between your business and contractors may evolve over time. New projects, roles, or changes in working practices can impact IR35 compliance. Regularly assess and update contracts to reflect these changes accurately.

  1. Legal and regulatory updates 

IR35 regulations and case law are subject to change. Staying informed about updates and adapting your contracts and practices accordingly is vital for sustained compliance.

  1. Contract renewals 

When contracts come up for renewal, take the opportunity to review and update them. Even if the working relationship remains the same, a fresh contract review can ensure continued compliance.

  1. Client education 

Continuously educate your clients and contractors about IR35 regulations and compliance best practices to prevent inadvertent non-compliance.

  1. Documentation and records 

Maintain detailed records of contracts, working practices, and financial transactions. Accurate documentation provides evidence of self-employment and can be invaluable in the event of an IR35 inquiry.

Compliance and reporting 

Compliance with IR35 regulations is not solely the responsibility of businesses or contractors—it's a shared obligation that demands transparency and adherence to specific reporting requirements.

Compliance and Reporting

Responsibilities of your business and contractors

Your business

  1. Status determination 

Businesses are responsible for determining the employment status of their contractors. This involves assessing whether the working relationship should be classified as self-employment or employment for tax purposes. The determination must be based on the actual working practices, not just the contract.

  1. Deduction of taxes 

If a contractor's engagement falls within the scope of IR35, it is the responsibility of the business to deduct the appropriate taxes and National Insurance contributions from the contractor's payments. These deductions must then be remitted to HMRC.

  1. Report on engagements 

Businesses must report on their engagements with contractors to HMRC. This reporting obligation includes providing information about the payments made to contractors and the reasons for making those payments.


  1. Accurate reporting 

Contractors must accurately report their income and expenses to HMRC. This includes any income earned through engagements that may be subject to IR35. Ensuring the accurate reporting of income is essential to avoid discrepancies.

  1. Compliance with determinations 

Contractors must comply with the determination made by the client regarding their employment status. If the determination is that the engagement falls within IR35, the contractor is responsible for the associated tax liabilities.

Reporting requirements

HMRC has established reporting requirements to ensure transparency and compliance with IR35 regulations. These requirements include:

  1. End of tax year reporting 

At the end of each tax year (typically by April 5th), businesses must report all payments made to contractors that fall within IR35 to HMRC using the Real Time Information (RTI) system.

  1. Statement to contractors 

Businesses are also required to provide a statement to contractors detailing the determination of their employment status and the reasons behind it. Contractors have the right to challenge this determination if they disagree with it.

  1. Payment reference numbers 

When deducting taxes and National Insurance contributions from contractor payments, businesses must ensure they are using the correct payment reference numbers provided by HMRC.

Consequences of non-compliance

Non-compliance with IR35 regulations can result in a range of significant consequences, including:

  1. Financial penalties 

HMRC can impose substantial financial penalties on businesses and contractors for non-compliance. These penalties may include fines for late reporting and underpayment of taxes.

  1. Backdated tax liabilities 

If a contractor's engagement is found to be inside IR35, they may be required to pay backdated taxes and National Insurance contributions, along with any applicable interest.

  1. Damage to reputation 

Non-compliance can harm the reputation of both businesses and contractors. Public perception and trust in a business may suffer, affecting relationships with clients and contractors.

  1. Legal action 

HMRC may take legal action to recover unpaid taxes and penalties. This can result in legal disputes and additional costs.

  1. Loss of contracts 

Contractors working through their own limited companies may lose contracts if clients determine that the engagements fall within IR35. This can lead to a loss of income and business opportunities.

Compliance with IR35 regulations is a shared responsibility between businesses and contractors, and it's crucial that both remain vigilant and proactive in their compliance efforts


Protecting your business with IR35 contract reviews is not just a compliance necessity; it's a strategic move to maintain financial stability and safeguard your reputation. Accurate contracts that reflect the reality of the working relationship and adherence to IR35 regulations can help you avoid costly penalties and legal disputes.

Moreover, seeking professional guidance when necessary, adopting proactive strategies to mitigate risks, and staying informed about the evolving landscape of IR35 regulations are critical components of a robust compliance strategy.

About the author 

Peter Keszegh

Most people write this part in the third person but I won't. You're at the right place if you want to start or grow your online business. When I'm not busy scaling up my own or other people' businesses, you'll find me trying out new things and discovering new places. Connect with me on Facebook, just let me know how I can help.

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