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Becoming a contractor programmer in the UK (github.com)
216 points by medwezys on June 16, 2015 | hide | past | web | favorite | 169 comments

As a contractor of many years standing (I started contracting when the internet appeared in 1994) I started reading the article hoping it was correct and finished it with my fingers covering my eyes in fear. Sadly I don't have time to correct many of the misconceptions and total inaccuracies it contains.

Its a shame really as good articles are hard to find and I'm sure many americans would find the differences between the UK and US markets very interesting...

However if you really want to be a contractor https://www.ipse.co.uk/advice/articles/starting-out has a lot of advice on starting out.

http://www.contractoruk.com/first_timers/ also has a lot of advice although as a new starter I would avoid the general part of their forum...

And there is a reason why people use limited companies. You can work as a self employed person but many clients stop when HMRC come knocking while agencies have been legally barred from employing people as self employed since the 1970s...

It would be a lot more useful if said what these misconceptions and inaccuracies were. It seemed generally accurate to me. I think you should either back up this comment or delete it; otherwise it's unfair to the author.

(I don't mind to sound snarky here; the rest of your comment is genuinely helpful).

You should absolutely not have your business bank with the same bank you use personally.

If your business account ever gets frozen (for litigation, tax investigation, etc.) many banks will also freeze any personal accounts you hold with them.

IMO many of the services he recommends also suck. I've used Crunch before and wouldn't recommend it and Barclays Business banking has a terrible reputation. £50 cashback isn't a good basis on which to chose a bank account. Get a proper accountant that specialises in contractors (Nixon Williams and SJD have decent reputations).

It also doesn't address withdrawing money out of the company (taxes, NI, pension, etc) which is a fairly important part of being a contractor.

I used Nixon Williams for about five years, they were very good.

Where to begin

Am I ready - The biggest bit is actually having the confidence to do it and a CV good that will get you past both the gatekeeper (the agent) and the client checking CVs... That means you should have real experience across both multiple employers and multiple market sectors (retail, consultancy, banking for instance) before thinking about it.

Timing -

Never understood this one. Projects have different life cycles so require analysts before project managers before developers before testers.

Outside of the week between Christmas and New Year there are always some companies looking to start projects or requiring another contractor to fix a problem. In fact the only time I've found it difficult to get work is in April which supposedly is a boom period due to new financial years...

Bureaucracy -

The easiest way to find contracts is through agencies. To do that you need either a limited company or to use an umbrella. You don't however need to create this before you get a contract as you can get a company created in about 4 hours..

Getting an accountant

You need one but don't need 1 until you get that first contract. Crunch has a lovely interface and is a good site but frankly I don't think they would be that great if things went wrong as they haven't got many qualified accountants. Look at IPSE or Freeagent for many other possible options..

Registering for VAT

On the flat rate scheme you don't keep 5.5% but rather .2 *.145 or 2.6% as the 14.5 is taken from the income including VAT..


You don't need to do anything until you have a contract (as I've continually said setting up a company can be done in 4 hours). You may need to wait before you get paid (although some agencies still pay weekly) but if that is the case you keep the expenses to a minimum, keep a record of them and take the money from the company as soon as it receives that money.

Finding your first client

The first client isn't the hardest. The second one is. Especially when your first client was a short term 3 month contract and they didn't renew you because the work was done. With 1 3 month contract under your belt you then start looking for a contract as your money starts running out. That is when things are difficult.

And I'm out of time but just before I go

Mailing lists and communities

This is my real problem with this article. He doesn't seem to want to be a contractor. He wants to be a freelancer working for multiple companies on various projects. Perfectly acceptable but thats the world of code bunnies doing work for start-ups and advertising agencies rather than contracting in a consultancy firm or government department.

A few things to add to this.

- put aside money Before starting try, really try, to have saved at least 1 months expenses - preferably 2 and ideally six. You won't get paid (as in a months salary in the bank) for a couple of months. companies have cycles for payments and if you are on the wrong end it can hurt

- know your tax liabilities Sit down with your accountant and write a spreadsheet or a script that tells you exactly how much tax you owe to whom given say 10,000 of monthly income. Do not leave until this is done. Read this again. Trust me from bitter personal experience. Know your tax situation

- tax "dodges". You will be approached within days by someone hoping they can sell you on a scheme where you will pay 1% tax. Loans, off shore, forget all of them. Until you can afford your own tax lawyer, you pay what HMRC tells you. Possibly the only "dodge" is if your spouse works for you and you split the shares of the company, each takin dividend payments - this way as a couple you have about 80k of income before a top rate tax is applied instead of just 40k if you are the only dividend reciever.

- good personal project management. No matter what half arsed system the client has you must always know what tickets you have, what the acceptance criteria are, and be able to report weekly to whomever. Even if you report to your Collegue or your own inbox the discipline is vital.

- have a "swapsies" partner. IR35 essentially says companies cannot exploit workers by calling them contractors. So there are several tests, the most convincing is substitutability - the idea if I am sick my company can send in another contractor just as good. Have a comtractor friend act as this person - it is a useful way to remember you are supposed to be a company not a person.

Wow - there is a lot more to talk about

Shameless plug, but if you need to set up a substitution agreement with another company, i.e. a "swapsies" partner, checkout https://agree.digital. It's generally a good idea to have documentation in place you can use as proof if HMRC come knocking!

Thanks. That's appreciated. Hopefully the author will update the article.

I agree please be careful with the advice contained here, from my perspective:

- DO NOT give up your full time salaried position until you have at least one contract lined up.

- Use a separate bank account for your business and don't mix personal and business.

- You shouldn't manipulate your company to avoid the 'risk of getting caught by IR35', this is a regulation that is in place for a reason.

It seems this article has been written as a way to maximise income from affiliates - there are multiple sites in the UK that offer accountancy as a service.

Strange advice, employment contracts in the UK generally have a minimum of 4 weeks notice, while contracts tend to require you to start in a week or so.

It depends on the contract. My first contract allowed me to give my notice to my permanent job (pretty sure it was 4 weeks IIRC). I'm pretty sure some of my other contracts didn't start immediately -- it depends on the job. Also, if you have somewhat specialized skills they might be prepared to wait for you.

It's definitely a high risk strategy to quit your job before you've found a contract.

If you happen to get back to this thread and do have the time then please post it. I would appreciate it very much since I'll be taking that route. Thanks.

> agencies have been legally barred from employing people as self employed since the 1970s

Do you happen to have a source for this?

The reason I ask is that I've written to HMRC regarding this precise issue, since I haven't been able to find any official statement to that effect.

While there are structural differences between a 'sole trader' (ie. self employed) and a 'limited company', it's up to the contractor to decide which is more suitable for them. I can't see that the client/agency has any say in the matter.

I was a sole trader for many years and am now incorporated. Usually agencies won't touch sole traders as they'd be on the hook for disguised employment whereas if you have your own Ltd it's your problem if HMRC decides IR35 applies to you.

Sole traders won't be getting capital gains, so you won't personally be out anything, but the agency doesn't want to have to worry about having to have all their coders suddenly be able to claim on their employer's liability insurance or to be on the hook for NI.

Here you go

The original legislation is tucked away in section 6(1) Employment Agencies Act 1973.


6.-(1)Except in such cases or classes of case as the Secretary of State may prescribe,a person carrying on an employment agency or an employment business shall not demand or directly or indirectly receive from any person any fee for finding him employment, or for seeking to find him employment. (2)Any person who contravenes this section shall be guilty of an offence and liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding £400.

What this does not touch on is be prepared to be a grease monkey, roll your sleeves up and get your hands dirty and most importantly learn how to make recommendations but not take it personally if they’re ignored for seemingly irrational reasons. Organisational dysfunction is the norm, not the exception.

Broadly speaking I’ve seen most of my work fall into these categories:

a) Help we need someone competent to aid us in a murky project b) We are a dysfunctional organisation, who require transient developers to put up with their modus operandi. c) We need your experience and expertise for a gap in our project

I’ve found (c) is best but (b) pays best though it can be stressful if your passionate about quality, engineering practices or process and (a) is often relatively short term but can garner kudos and create better opportunities.

Most companies don’t hire contractors because they’re doing swimmingly. Often it’s because they have some degree of dysfunction. For example large institutions in the City regularly operate as a parody of the Mythical Man Month. Expect Waterfall, PMO, silos of BA, Dev, QA; UAT (manual), Cookie Cutter templates to everything. Expect most “business” interaction to be via a PM and scrums to be lengthy tortious ordeals. (This is why companies like Thought Works do so well and why I expect some serious disruption in the coming years from Startup targeting City companies).

Expect people to ask you your advice and for you to mentor less experienced developers. Do not expect your advice to be implemented, or rather expect it to be watered down with compromise by non-technical councils.

I really like contracting. I enjoy the flexibility, variety and the challenges. I enjoy the people and skills I learn and now my network has expanded and I have earned a reasonable reputation I enjoy the better projects.

I second the sentiment about going IPSE and of hiring a decent accountancy. Don't worry about their portals or how shabby a website may look, pick them based on their competency.

Bite the bullet. Go for it!

This is incredibly accurate, and applies equally well to contracting in other roles than as a developer.

I agree with you. This is why I will probably never go contracting. These my observations:

You have to be an expert in the required area. Example: you have to be a Java Developer. If you are a software engineer that uses Java as one of your tools, it's not gonna fly, because god forbid you won't know by heart some java specific library/method/quirk/etc during your interview - this will be immediately filed under as a "NO" under "can hit the ground running" section, no matter how good you are at software engineering as a whole. In the end you will work with handful of "proven" (read "old, outdated") tools and become an expert of handling all kinds of legacy mess.

You can't know everything and don't need to know everything.

What I offer is a lot of knowledge for the core items I currently use (Dynamics CRM, C#, Javascript, SQL) and a very broad set of knowledge based on 20 years of been there done that seen what happens if you do it that way...

The requirement of any contractor (or consultant) is to convey a sense of competency / trustworthiness that allows the interviewer to believe you either fit the exact requirements or provide enough additional value (in my case 20 odd years of battle wounds and stories of utter disasters) that you are the person who will add the most value....

It's not necessarily true, I was interviewed as a permi but chose to join as a contractor instead. From what i observed the ability of contract developer is not necessarily better than a permanent.

> You have to be an expert in the required area.

Nah. I'm by no means an expert in anything - you just have to be good enough to justify the daily rate (mine is low* for this reason.)

* but still a lot more than I'd get being permanent, obv.

Clearly we have worked in some of the same places! Very accurate!

> The fixed rate VAT does not let you reclaim VAT, but you pay a lower rate than you charge your clients. So if you're a developer contractor you'll be adding 20% VAT to your client invoices, but only pay 14.5% to HMRC, keeping the remaining 5.5% to the business.

This is not correct. The way the flat rate VAT scheme works is you add VAT to your bill, then pay 14.5% of your "flat rate turnover" to HMRC. Flat rate turnover includes the VAT.

For example, let's say you did £100 worth of work for a client. You invoice them for £100 + 20% VAT = £120 in total. You must then pay 14.5% of £120 to HMRC (i.e. £17.40).

BTW there is a HUGE catch with that fixed rate system. It more or less prevents you from doing any work overseas (for a company that doesn't have a UK office). The reason is that the work you do oversea would have to be invoiced as /zero rate VAT/ -- however you will still be liable to pay back 13.5 (or 14.5 after a year) VAT from what you invoiced. This is cruel, but there is no way around it. The bottom line is that HRMC considers that you need to pay 13.5 for any VAT rate you charge, and 'zero rated' actually means you are 'charging' zero, but you are still technically charging! I can tell you it was a pretty massive headbanger for me earlier this year, and luckily the company I worked for had an obscure UK office that allowed me to re-invoice everything with the 'proper' 20% VAT

So if you plan to sell work to an oversea company in the future, make sure to get off the simplified VAT scheme beforehand. I know I will, come november, the shackles aren't really worth the tiny little money you get in the end.

Strange. In France you don't have to contribute VAT for the services you invoiced abroad (well, outside the EU. Inside the EU is another matter). You don't receive it, you don't pay it.

It seems absurd to make a company pay back a VAT amount that it has not perceived.

I know, but I really went over with a comb on the HRMC website, asked them, asked all around and everyone agreed. These transactions are 'zero rated' -- therefore, you need to pay 1[34].5% VAT back... Stupid, but the rule is clear.

Incredibly bizarre that as a small company, you try to 'export' and thus bring cash back into the economy, and are in fact actively prevented from doing so when on that scheme.

It also doesn't mention that you don't need to register for VAT until you have a turnover of £82k.

But for coders it's almost always worth registering straight away and going for the FRS.

Also, on FRS you can claim a single £2k expense annually.

Within the EU. For example if you have a turnover of £100k all from outside of the EU you don't need to register.

You don't have to,but you might want to - if you want to do any business with EU companies you have to give them your VAT number to be properly paid and invoiced. My company doesn't make anywhere near 82k,but it has to be VAT-registered for this very reason.

Oops, it's good I didn't trust myself and got Crunch to do that for me :) Thanks a lot, I'll update the guide when I get a chance.

Also in your first year you receive an extra 1% - if you would normally pay 14.5%, in the first year you would only pay 13.5% back.

In terms of the recruiters section, whilst I appreciate you may not have had a good experience, this is probably the way a lot of people get contracting work, at least until you have a fairly big network of contacts.

I'd be more interested in knowing what agencies do have a good reputation / good developer experience along with the note to beware of the cowboys.

In general the big ones suck and have a boiler room mentality. Good ones in my experience:

Oxford Knight

Functional Works


Hays (They're big but have been good to work with)

I'll add more as I think of them.

If you're looking for work in finance - you will almost certainly be going through a recruiter.

Funny. I've had lots of problems with Hays. Cancelling cheques, unenforceable and ridiculous clauses in contracts for example.

The best agencies? None. Don't use them if you can help it. If you have to the smaller the boutique ones tend to be better, if nothing else because they'll have the better clients and more interesting projects.

I did a quick review of agencies 2 yrs back to use as we started to run out of organic references in London - Oxford Knight, Burns Sheehan, Recworks (Java and grads) seemed decent. Stack Overflow is also worth using carefully

They're all pretty good as an ex-contractor in the UK. Even getting paid is quite easy if you sub your timesheets quickly.

The killer is simply making sure that if you do the entire 6 month contract in 2 weeks that you still get paid for the rest or have a massive termination fee in the contract.

The agents don't care; they pass all costs on.

Any more specific advice on enforcing payment if you deliver the contract early?

Yes. Specify an early termination charge of at least 50% of the contract total.

It depends on your market sector as well. Some agencies are better for banking contracts, others for, say, media.

I also think that it is worth forming a good relationship with a particular agent. Meet in person if you can so they can see you are someone who seems competent. And if you ever have a friend that is looking, it does no harm to refer them to a good agent you know.

Why bother with a third party company registration service? You can do it yourself pretty easily through companies house.

Do companiesmadesimple have any value-add?

While I do share your cynicism about recruiters, I have also got most of my contracts through them. There are bad recruiters (vague job descriptions, never call you back) and there are good ones (We need someone here, you fit the bill, can we arrange a time to talk to my client?).

Learning to swallow your distaste and listen to them as if they were worthwhile human beings is a useful skill. Some (few) of them actually are.

(--edit-- good guide in general! I don't just want to harp on the negatives!)

A few more comments -

Rate - Daily is good, hourly can also work. My current client will pre-authorise overpayment of a few hours a week if I work them. A little income boost if I want it.

IR35 - The 'own equipment' thing is a guideline only, and I don't think you'll fall foul of IR35 for using their equipment, particularly as many places only allow their equipment to be used on their networks.

There are other reasons to avoid working for one client long-term too. At the moment you sign up for a contract or contract renewal that takes you over the two year mark, you can no longer claim day to day expenses.

I.E. I sign an initial 18 month contract, and at the end sign up for another year. From the18 month point the client office will be considered my 'normal place of work', regardless of IR35, so the company cannot pay for transport or lunch any more.

Professional working day = fine if you client is nice can result in being expected to work stupid hours for no benefit..

IR35 equipment is an utterly irrelevant point. The real factors are:-

Right of Substitution (I can replace myself with Fred and the client can't complain) Mutuality of Obligation which means that the client doesn't need to pay if they have no work for you to do regardless of the length of the contract Where you were last. you can't be a permanent member of staff on Friday and start back in the same desk as a contractor on Monday morning.

Lots of stuff regarding IR35 can be found at http://www.contractoruk.com/ir35/ and http://www.ipse.co.uk as IR35 is why the latter exists...

> Rate - Daily is good, hourly can also work. My current client will pre-authorise overpayment of a few hours a week if I work them. A little income boost if I want it.

How do you manage your hours with a day rate? Is a work day 8 hours, or is it any day you worked for the company more than X hours?

I've been trying to move to logging time and equating 1 day to 8 hours work.

I find it fiddly to bill per day when perhaps I only needed to work 5 hours to complete one job and 3 on another day.

> I find it fiddly to bill per day when perhaps I only needed to work 5 hours to complete one job and 3 on another day.

But you're also forgetting that this 3-5 hours has basically made you lose what could have been 4 hours at another client because they've taken up your time in your schedule. This is your per-job overheads.

Your utilisation is your client's problem, not yours. Don't let your rate be tied to your time, make it tied to your skills and your value to the business and force yourself to be worth that value.

Don't let yourself lose out in the name of "being competitive". Bill half the day if you have to leave early and consider it a half day off, but never bill hourly.

Source: just went from billing hourly to daily. I feel so much better now, especially when you realise people are willing to pay if you're worth it.

Good to get this stuff sorted out ahead of time I guess.

Last year I was on a no-questions, no deviating day-rate. The consultancy I was working through wanted hourly accounting, I told them no and charged my rate per day or part of a day I worked for them, and based my working practices around 7.5 hour days. I put in the odd extra hour or ten here and there because I liked them and enjoyed the project, and they never quibbled about me clocking off early when the project didn't require a full day's attention. Quid pro quo I guess.

For this current contract the agent demands an account of hours worked and pays extra hours at day-rate/7.5, up until some maximum at which time I get to charge double, but the time has to be authorised by the end-client.

But it sounds like you're doing much smaller chunks of stuff for multiple clients? I tend to dedicate myself to one client at a time and work more or less full time on one project. Serial monogamy one might call it... I'm not an employee because I work on a project basis and then leave with no fuss :) I'm definitely a contractor, are you more of a freelancer?

I do largely prefer the hourly rate myself. The reason is that it is way too easy to work 'more' but it is very hard to work 'less' when paid daily. It was a problem I had for all the years I was employed, and I hate it..

With the hourly rate, I can just go off at lunchtime if I feel like the weather is good, and plonk in 12h on the following day if I like. And nobody /minds/ because they know I'm on an hourly rate. Also, I have a 'primary' client, so I can work there in the morning, and take on another contract from home and work that in the afternoon for example. I've been doing that a lot lately, and yes some days you end up doing silly hours, but they are all /paid/ hours.

I used to charge (as a freelance) on 'project' and 'phases' and so on, but very often, you always end up working more due to shifting specifications, bugs etc. By sticking to an hourly rate, you remove that constrain, and if you are 'expensive' companies will try not to waste your time -- while I see a lot of 'daylies' being given menial jobs because they are considered 'cheap' and expendables.

> But it sounds like you're doing much smaller chunks of stuff for multiple clients? I tend to dedicate myself to one client at a time and work more or less full time on one project. Serial monogamy one might call it... I'm not an employee because I work on a project basis and then leave with no fuss :) I'm definitely a contractor, are you more of a freelancer?

It's mostly one client at the moment, but not full time (10 days a month) and often based around when a new dataset becomes available to analyse. I work in Biotech and not strictly software development, so it's a slightly different model I guess.

It's also partly my fault, sometimes life gets in the way or I run out of steam after 4 or 5 hours staring at a dataset.

For contracting I'd ideally like to have a few clients and move between projects.

> Why bother with a third party company registration service?

Well, note the affiliate link...

Companies House charge £15 for setting up a company online. Most accountants include it in their service, and will let you use their address as your office/postal address if you want.

It may be different for developers but if you avoid recruiters, you're probably ignoring about half the job market for contracting.

When I decided I wanted a Ltd I spend an afternoon reading through the regulations on HMRC and Contractor UK and still wasn't really sure what I needed to do. I went with Crunch and they setup everything for me in a couple of days (including flat-rate VAT and PAYE). If I were to do it again I probably would do it myself, but to start with I don't think it's really worth the effort of this is all new to you.

When I first started contracting I used an umbrella company for a few months, I'd recommend people starting out go this route then move to a Ltd once they are sure this is what they want to do.

I mostly went with them because of their privacy package. They do simplify the process a little bit by putting a nice UI on top of this more manual process [1]. I'd rather pay a few extra pounds than risk submitting wrong information thus creating more trouble further down the road. Perhaps, FUD was playing a role too.

[1] - https://www.gov.uk/limited-company-formation/overview

I found it pretty easy when I did it three years ago, it's not hard.

That said, I didn't need to bother, as part of on-boarding with my accountant they would have done it all for me.

I recently did it, took about 10 minutes online I think. I would guess the services make things easier for you by suggesting a default number of shares, and automatically filling in director information etc.

My accountant also would have done it, but I wanted the company in existence quickly so I could get contracts signed.

The UI in the formation companies is often worse and asks exactly the same questions.

The privacy service is a genuine value-add if you don't like putting your home address on the Internet.

You can get service addresses that forward on HRMC mail for 20-30 quid a year.

They do all the annoying paperwork for you at the registration service like the initial transfer of directors capital and appointments and crap like that. It's worth it.

(I've killed 5 limited companies now so I have lots of experience ;-)

IR35 is the only PITA IMHO of doing all this and that's easily sorted by doing the odd phone/laptop repair at the same time and invoicing it.

No it won't..

IR35 is explicitly contract by contract based... In theory (and in practice) you could be working at 3 places at the same time and 2 of them would be outside IR35 and 1 would be inside it...

There are a lot of old wives tales and myths around IR35 http://www.contractoruk.com/ir35/top_ten_ir35_myths_debunked... shows a few of them. And sorry for posting links to the same two sites but that is where the real information is from people who have operated this way for years...

You're right and I glossed over most of it but the killers are concurrency, substitution and fixed deliverables. With concurrency, if you can prove that during the contracted period you had billable work outside the contract then that goes in your favour if you get nabbed and the contract is borderline. With substitution, the contract should state that you can provide a substitute on demand so you're contracting out services and yourself. The third is fixed deliverables; that's always a killer. Rolling contracts as non distinct labour are how to get shot.

For ref I had a small battle on this front and concurrency won it for me.

TBH get a good solicitor and get them to take a look at the contract paperwork. That's better advice :)

Concurrency was part of the HMRC's Business Entity Tests which were so hilariously inaccurate compared to IR35 actual rules its was funny.

I guess if you had a small battle and that won it that battle wasn't with HMRC but instead with the Cabinet Office or another government department / quango...

>> IR35 is the only PITA IMHO of doing all this and that's easily sorted by doing the odd phone/laptop repair at the same time and invoicing it.


Oh, a phone/laptop repair for someone else, and invoicing them for it?

In just under three years I've taken on 5 contracts of varying lengths and billed for a small amount of casual consultancy work on the side too. I'm clearly not acting as an employee, hopefully I'm in the clear :)

/Nursie - companies that provide registration services save time. If you have time, you can diy registration, right. But generally they provide very convenient service. Besides, services like 9-10 Adam Street can also provide you conference rooms, club place etc., in addition to registration. There are many companies that will help you open Ltd in the UK fast, and very few that will help you to close the once opened company.

Disclaimer: recently volunteered to help to shut down UK limited company, I wished I'd used someone else.

It literally takes 10 minutes to register a company yourself now, your advice is about 8 years out to date.

I was just looking at the site linked from the howto and couldn't see what they were giving me that using companies house directly didn't, for the simple case of company registration.

I haven't been through shutdown yet, so I'll take your word for it (and everyone else's!) that it's painful...

>I was just looking at the site linked from the howto and couldn't see what they were giving me that using companies house directly didn't

Worse they give you usually less as many formation companies keep the "webfiling auth code" for themselves and you will have to do all Companies House related administrative tasks through them (most likely for a fee).

Retrieving your webfiling code in that case is just hassle you wouldn't have had if you incorporated yourself in the first place.

I'd also mention joining IPSE (http://www.ipse.co.uk/) which a is trade organisation for freelancers. They provide various benefits including IR35 insurance that covers investigations.

Freeagent is a good online accounts package as well, but you need to find an accountant that uses it.

One other thing I would say is that I'm not sure your points about IR35 are correct. EG:

* Don't use equipment provided by the client; -- This would be very hard to do. Most clients I've ever worked for supply you with a PC to use and won't allow non-corporate devices on their network.

* Be careful with paid-for meals or participating in company parties. -- Never heard this mentioned before.

* Avoid working for one client for longer than a year when possible. -- A lot of cients will enforce a maximum period of 2 years anyway, as after that you could theoretically claim benefits.

There are a lot of scare stories propogated about IR35, and a lot of it is by companies that sell IR35 Contract Reviews, IR35 Insurance etc. The number of IR35 investigations each year is in the low thousands, and there are 1.8m contractors in the UK.

Re. IR35 investigations - that number is going to go up. The new intermediaries legislation will give HMRC a ready-made list of likely targets. I expect the first people to be hit will be in companies with a large number of contractors supplied through the same company.

I've heard all those points mentioned, including by an accountant. Remember it is a points based system, not hard and fast rules.

Agree about scare stories, but it is a scary topic.

Good to see recruiters getting some love on the comments here. If there remains a place for 3rd party recruiters its in the contract market. A few reasons:

Payments processing - a lot of employers will not want to deal with processing payments for contractors. Indeed, its often the main reason why they might go for contract vs permanent resource in the first place. I've seen situations where contractor and employer have discovered each other, only for the employer to then ask the contractor to 'go through agency X'. No one likes admin load and we'd all get rid of it if we can.

Reduce assessment load - job opportunities cycle much more frequently on the contract market - typically 3-6 months. This means a lot more time involved in opportunity sourcing / vetting, potentially a hugely time consuming exercise. A good recruiter will be able to filter these opportunities for you, and only get you the most suitable gigs

Reduce downtime - going without agencies entirely means relying on your own market gravity as a developer of renown to secure job opportunities. This is do-able for high profile developers, of course, especially those who live in metropolitan areas and are prominent on the open source / community / events scene. However, if you work on proprietary software, have heavy family obligations and live outside of a big city, you're probably going to find agents very useful indeed.

Salary / Rate negotations - they are going to take their 15-20%. But they may end up earning you more by negotiating hard with the end employer. Certainly an inexperienced contractor is at risk of being exploited, but that's true in whatever of the type of contract you sign. A good relationship with a trusted agent can really help you make more on your rate, especially if you are not a naturally comfortable at negotiating.

And I say all this as a maker of a tech hiring platform that doesn't allow 3rd party recruiters on it. They have their place - just a smaller one than they currently occupy.

Great article in all other areas

What's your platform?

The payments thing is important, and sometimes recruiters provide a useful buffer too - the end-client company might take their sweet time to pay, or be unreliable. Contracting through a third party provides you with a buffer and I know for a fact that I've been paid well ahead of the recruiter being paid on several occasions.

Knowing Hung, he'll be too humble to mention his platform directly so I'll do it on his behalf: http://workshape.io

It's a brilliant platform & I've hired a few great people on there.

Thanks, I'll take a look around...

>A service like www.companiesmadesimple.com (aff.) will make the incorporation process easy. It usually takes up to three business hours.

Yeah, better do it yourself. I'm from Germany and I set up a LTD directly with Companies House myself. It's really (I mean really really) straight forward and they even accept PayPal to pay the 15 GBP fee. It took me ~20 minutes and the company was incorporated the next day.

Those formation companies usually just are an unnecessary middleman.

The formation companies are a left over from when it was quite hard

Uh oh, if it's one thing us brits like to do its wrangle over the finer points of tax, employment and contractual law. This thread is going to get long, involved and possibly slightly testy :)

one thing I would say is that i have had good fortune with recruiters, providing they are a decent recruiter they can ensure 0 downtime between contracts and if financial stability is a concern then this should notbe overlooked. One thing i have found is that finding a good recruitr and sticking with them has ben more useful than calling a handful of agencies and using the shotgun approach.

I would note that none have ever told me the name of a client prior to me accepting to be represented by them and I have been introduced to a client company who then asked me to work directly through them and to bypass the recruiter (and any fees the client company would be paying to them). I refused as it was a single contract for 6 months and burning bridges with anyone isnt worth it for that sort of duration. Plus the recruiter had got me the interview within 7 days of me getting in touch with them.

YMMV just my 2cents.

This looks incredibly helpful - I wish someone would do one for the US/Canada

Becoming a Contract Programmer in Canada: http://www.cameronhuff.com/blog/becoming-a-contract-programm....

Theres a lot out there on starting your own business in the USA. The US tax gotcha that is similar to VAT is quarterly payroll and income tax on your NET income. People get several $10Ks behind on taxes, especially the doubled social security part, and could be penalized by the IRS.

+1 for canada

+1 Canada

Do not ever be a sole trader. It means you are personally liable for anything that goes wrong.

Say you end up with a dreadful contract and everything goes wrong and the client sues. If you're a ltd company you can dissolve the business and pay them out of whatever assets your company has.

If you're a sole trader you're liable for all the costs. Until you're personally bankrupt. Sure, there may be clauses in the contract etc, but if someone is mean enough they can make your life very difficult and they will exploit the fact you are a sole trader.

This is what business indemnity insurance is for, get covered to a minimum of £50K.

If you don't own a house and are brining in less than £70K PA it may or may not be worth registering a Limited company.

If you don't own a house, you probably have tons of cash which is even easier for people to get their hands on.

Lots of companies will not want to deal with you if you don't have a ltd though.

The post is good, covering many of the aspects, but if you are trying or just started contracting there is not always a need to make the VAT registration and Limited Company. As I have been freelancing for 4 years as a sole trader. There are some tax benefits but you have to manage your pay and money very differently as a Ltd, i.e. you have to hold money in the bank enough to cover company bills that you cant spend. Unless you are a high paid contractor all year you are unlikely to make £82,000 VAT base rate.

> As far as I understand, it is important to have a contract that allows you to:

> [...]

> If the client insists on including the clauses above, be ready to move on.

These lines appear to contradict themselves, am I missing something?

Finding a good accountant isn't easy, but I would recommend looking for something better than Crunch. They were the default option "just pick Crunch", but I had to do a lot of tax research myself and recommend favorable approaches to their accountants on certain non-standard things. I also felt their first line of support is spread very thin and they put a lot of bookkeeping work on me. Then a lot of services cost extra each month, making their total pricing uncompetitive. In the end I got everything done and they did their best to rectify issues, but it was a big burden on my time and significant amounts of stress.

Maybe I would have had this issue with any accountants as a first time contractor, but I know it could have been better and I would have happily paid more to make it so. Do yourself a favor and pay extra to get an accountant that handles more things on your behalf (bookkeeping, VAT filing, etc) preferably with a simple non-proprietary interface.

I haven't tried these two services but if I go back to a UK accountant they'd be at the top of my list.

http://www.3wisebears.co.uk/ (contractor) http://www.proactive.uk.net (more startup focused, very helpful via phone)

I would also recommend not using Crunch. They're OK if you stay on the beaten path, but if you start veering off it their juniors don't have a clue. It was a painful experience for me.

I recently started working as a contractor (just for a few months to bring some cash in so I can continue to work on my business).

As I have a business already, I was considering doing the contracting under the business to reduce liability. Does anyone know whether this will increase the amount of tax I have to pay? I figured that I would have to pay corporation tax on any money I bring into the company as well as personal tax on any money that I pay myself as a salary. Is that the case?

Ask your accountant. Seriously, that's the best thing to do in a situation like that - random strangers on the Internet have no idea of the ins and outs of your company structure etc. and so could potentially give bad advice, even if they don't intend to.

Something called entrepreneurs' relief is also nice for those with ltds or tech startups in the UK. It allows you to save massively on CG tax (10% instead of the normal rate of 18% or 28%) when selling assets or liquidating the business.


You guys need to learn some accounting. Don't be afraid of book-keeping and be keen on any rule that helps you save on taxes. Overall, a limited company can save you around 20% on taxes over a salaried worker. That alone makes it difficult to go back to full-time employment.

I agree with you in principle, but not in practice.

Outsource your bookkeeping to Xero or Bench or wherever. As a consultant, accounting is a cost centre. You should be focusing on sales, marketing, or service delivery.

As a consultant, you are now a business. Ring the freaking bell or deliver service. That's your new job.

"As a consultant, accounting is a cost centre."

While I can't claim to know every jurisdiction, this is a very naive way of looking at things. Situations in which I was first-hand witness to people making (lots of) money from knowing the books well (i.e., much better than if someone else would do it):

- subsidies (like for 'innovation') - in case of a tax audit - some junior accountant who gets tasked with the small clients at a firm isn't going to be able to defend some stuff as well as someone with skin in the game - on bankruptcy or when talking to a bank

And I'm sure there are more.

Good advice, especially the bit about crunch. First time I contracted I let my accountant talk me into using their horrible spreadsheet. I couldn't make my self use it it was that bad and my accounts were a mess. Now my accountant (nimble jack) bundles freeagent (which when I looked into it was better than crunch and has an API) and keeping on top of things is much easier.

One additional thing: If you're married make sure your spouse is a director of the company as well (especially if they're not working). You can be hugely tax efficient in this manner and can extract nearly £80k per year from the company with no personal tax to pay (there will still be corporation tax to pay on profits).

Personally I prefer the 'human' accountant. I've been using an experienced accountant for many years, and continued on when I created the LTD. He also does my personal taxes, the PAYE etc. For the company, we 'share' a google spreadsheet that is very simple, I add my invoicing, expenses, and he uses that to do the VAT bits and PAYE. Very low overhead, and he's very cheap too -- he's also 1 mile away, so I go and sit down with him and chat about options etc if I feel like it.

There might be some pretty good small accountancy firms around that will cost a LOT less than these fancy online firms, so do check around locally, or asks for recommendations -- I think it's worth it.

What's cheap for an accountant? I'm paying about £800 per year for mine. I didn't really shop around as I had to set things up on short notice.

That'd be cheap for London. It's normal to pay 1k+ a year

Other recommendations of accountants with decent online systems would be greatly appreciated. My current ones (Nixon Williams) seem fairly good as accountants, but the spreadsheet based expenses (and having to use email to take dividends, check profit/loss, etc) are getting quite annoying, and they want to charge extra to use their registered address rather than my own, which leaves a bit of a bad taste when Crunch include this.

I have heard good things about Crunch's system but some mixed things about the quality of their advice and how pro-active they are - any other feedback on them or others?

The point about the registered address and fraud is a real one, someone I worked with had this happen to them - will Crunch act as the service address as well as the registered address?

I've used Crunch since I began contracting towards the end of 2009. So I was one of their early customers. I would say their software keeps getting better but their service as a whole has worsened as they've got bigger. That's not to say their service is bad, it's just not as good as it was when they had less than 100 customers. I've had a couple of instances in the past (around two years ago) where I've had to correct my account manager when he's told me something I've known to be wrong.

Having said that, just about everything is automated or part of their software now and I haven't had to speak to anyone there since last summer. Maybe their service hasn't gotten any worse, it's just become less personal.

I've been using NW for about three years now and am deeply ambivalent about them for similar reasons...

I'm unsure if you'll see this reply with the topic being quite old, but I found out today (via a Youtube ad, no less - well targeted, sort of!) that Nixon Williams now have an online portal, called Vantage: http://www.nixonwilliams.com/vantage - judging via the Wayback Machine, it has only been around since February this year.

If you speak to your account controller, they'll be able to set you up a dummy account to see if you like it - my understanding is that this would replace the monthly submissions of expenses and invoices, and give you a better real time view of your profit/loss, but you should still get the same level of service and attention paid to your account and it costs no extra. I'm still waiting for confirmation of all that (my worry being that I could make a mistake and it wouldn't get spotted, whereas it would with a monthly submission to a human) and for my account to be set up, so I can't comment any more on it, but it's definitely worth a look!

I use an accountant that is "Freeagent Compatible". I'd suggest having a look at the list on the Freeagent website (http://www.freeagent.com/).

Yep, having set consulting companies a couple of times now having something like Freeagent is invaluable. Getting a good accountant is important as well, after switching once I now use 3wisebears who I'd recommend.

If you split up, your spouse will take half the money in your business account with them if it's 50-50...

They would happen anyway as part of any divorce settlement and may get more if you have children.

Tax planning really should not be a reason to go contracting. You can get more money by moving to another permanent job elsewhere.

Valid reasons to me for going contracting would be to remain technical, to continue learning new technologies, to avoid permie politics and appraisals (which is why I contract)..

You probably wont be able to find a permanent job that pays as well as contract job, at the same skill levels.

If we ever split up, I'd give her at least half of my money to look after my children :-)

They don't need to be a director just a shareholder.

It's probably worth noting that you only need to register for VAT if you're expecting to make > 82KGBP in VATable sales per year.

If you're contracting is mostly remote and outside the UK, you don't need to register, or charge VAT (as I understand it).

If you register for flat rate VAT you will (most likely) actually take home slightly more money however, so it's worth doing.

There is a financial incentive to do so, you charge VAT at 20% and you pay it at 14.5%.

I.E. I do £100 of work, I charge £120 and pay the government 0.145 * 120 = £17.4

Further, for the first year, you get to pay at 13.5%, £16.20 in the example, effectively boosting company revenue by 3.8% for the first year, and 2.6% thereafter.

Specifically I was talking about the situation where your clients are outside the EU and you wouldn't be charging them VAT anyway.

If you are working with UK clients I'd imagine it's most likely in your interests to be VAT registered.

On the other hand if you do register then you can claim back the VAT on any expenses.

Not quite that simple, unfortunately. You can only claim it back on large expenditures if you're on the fixed-rate scheme (I think that's what it's called). Computer equipment is the prime one, but it has to be over £2K in a single spend.

AFAICT most VAT on everyday expenses doesn't come back to you.

OTOH you can charge the company for your lunch every day, which means you get that paid for before corporation tax, income tax or anything else...

> OTOH you can charge the company for your lunch every day, which means you get that paid for before corporation tax, income tax or anything else...

Hmmm. I think my last accountant told me things like lunch every day were not billable to the company. But they weren't very good accountants. :)

I didn't realise it was only spends over 2K that could be claimed back. Do you have a reference for that?

Overall, VAT registration didn't seem to offer me much (given that my clients are all outside the UK) but I'm curious to know if there are circumstances where it might make sense.

It was guidance from my accountant and other contractors have said the same. Receipted lunch and travel expenses are reclaimable when I am on a client site. Which I am most days, as I prefer to work closely with the client's team, though reserve the right to work from wherever I want. Most notably, last year, I did a few days work from a rented office in Australia where I was on holiday at the time! I claimed the office rental too...

Best I can find on VAT in a ten-second search is this -


Sections 15.1 and 15.2 are where you'll want to look.

Oh, and the overview section from this much simpler guide :)



This £2K thing probably does only apply to companies on flat-rate schemes.

The idea is that for a small business, the overheads of processing all the VAT refund stuff are just too large, so you give relief on large purchases only, and the income boost I mentioned in the other post is probably supposed to make up for it. Or something. I don't claim to fully understand!

I notice that business bank accounts are always mentioned in these sorts of lists. To me they seem like an extra overhead for no reason. You essentially have to ask a bank's permission and pay them just so they can accept your payments? So weird.

I could understand it if you had a business with employees and you sold products on a daily basis with loads of transactions, or if you plan to get into debt... but for invoicing someone every month? Personal account seems fine, and I'm sure people have several of them already.

The business is a separate legal entity to you. A business bank account clearly demarks what is your money and what is not. I wouldn't be at all surprised if it's a requirement to work with a lot of companies, if not a legal requirement for working with a ltd company.

Business bank accounts can be had for free - most contractor-friendly accountants have an arrangement with Cater-Allen, for instance.

It's not a legal requirement and they're certainly not free AFAIK.

It is a requirement for partecipating in certain contests (eg: Microsoft had a program for investing in indie games company and they required to use a business account entitled to the company) but I still haven't heard such requirement from a client.

>> It's not a legal requirement

I'd be surprised if it wasn't a requirement with many clients though, it shows a level of professionalism.

>> and they're certainly not free AFAIK.

You haven't looked very hard then...

> I'd be surprised if it wasn't a requirement with many clients though, it shows a level of professionalism.

Agree, but I've never seen such clause in a contract.

> You haven't looked very hard then... I guess it's a service provided by only certain accountants? All the (chartered) accountants I've talked to never offered a free business account. They offered introduction to paid business account but that's the usual.

If it's not and there is a free business banking account with a reputable bank out somewhere I'll be happy to look into it.

Ok so the the two things I know of are that HSBC will give you a free intro year or two (but that's obviously only useful for a year or so) and that most contractor-specialising accountants have some sort of promotion/deal on with Cater-Allen to get you free business banking at their private bank.

Agree, after all it's just a way to keep expenses and earnings separated from your everyday transactions.

They are not required by law (here in UK) but they're suggested by pretty much every accountant out there. I don't use a business account when working for myself, but I do use one for a company I've founded with other people.

I'd say it's more useful when it's not a one-man ltd.

HMRC like it and so do most accountants. While not a legal requirement it saves trouble if you ever get investigated (otherwise you have prove what each outgoing payment was).

Cater Allen is practically free, I think there is some sort of minimum average balance but if you keep both a rainy day and your tax payments in there it's a trivial task.

I read that book http://www.amazon.co.uk/Contractors-Handbook-Expert-Guide-Fr... when I started contracting last year and thought it covered quite a bit.

Another thing I'd recommend is finding an accountant that uses FreeAgent or something similar rather than their homegrown system. Also, If you use an accountant they will do the company registration for you

My advice would be to use an umbrella company and let them deal with all the tax hassles - they have an entire staff purely for this. You will take home slightly less (no opportunity for tax "optimisation" but I disagree with that on principle anyway) but then also have no exposure to HMRC coming after you 6 years later saying "Where's our £10,000?" (has happened to several people I know.)

(edit for spelling)

Oh the joys of IR35 and its old ability to attract people into tax avoidance schemes instead of setting up limited companies....

My advice and I've repeated it continually on Contractor UK for years is to only use a proper umbrella company or use a limited company.

If someone says you'll receive more than 65-70% of you contract value from a umbrella company or more than 80% from a limited company they are just lying to you and wish to use your greed to initially grab money off you and then let HMRC take you to court...

For details on proper umbrella companies see http://www.allumbrellacompaniesareequal.com/ . But if you are planning to do this long term start a limited company....

Good advice.

I contracted for about 10 years in the UK, finance mostly. Had my own Ltd, took home about 65% of my day rate. No funny business, happened to move clients about every two years which helped for IR35.

Nothing more complicated than that. Yes that means I paid 35% tax, which is pretty much the equivalent I would have paid if I could have ever found anyone who would pay me my day rate as a salary.

1. I believe in a progressive tax system and public services 2. I don't believe in working for an umbrella based in Norther Cyprus which is owned by a Trust of which I am a trustee which pays me loans on a semi-regular basis of 80-88% of my day rate with absolutely zero tax paid by me.

HMRC is cracking down on IT Contractor loans anyway, and quite a few people are rightly being hit up for quite large amounts of tax.

If the UK public had any idea how many (roughly 50k contractors in the City) avoided paying so much tax (billions) while they were being mugged by PAYE there would be a total bun fight.

Me. I'm still wealthy, my dad was a teacher, my mum a stay-at-home mum. Went to state schools, drove on state roads, took the benefit of people who actually paid tax.

To all the "I could pay some of my extra money to a charity / local school" brigade. Sure, but you never did - you parasite. Feel free to thank me for providing all those public services for you if you like.

> Had my own Ltd, took home about 65% of my day rate. No funny business

What do you define as "no funny business"? Just curious what you mean by that.

I operate a Ltd, take a low salary and the rest dividends (as recommended by my accountant), claim the odd lunch and transport as expenses and that is about it, which I think is fine (both legally and morally) as at the end of the day, I am operating as a company rather than an employee, and am following the letter of the law.

I actually don't think the difference in tax paid is that significant if you operate that way, I've not worked it out exactly but I suspect I pay around the same amount of tax as a contractor with an Ltd as I would in an equivalent permanent position (in the sense that the perm salary would be lower but the tax a bit higher), so I don't really feel bad about my contribution back in terms of taxation.

Of course, I've worked with people who do take the p*ss and will put anything and everything through as expenses and find all the tax loopholes they can - seems like a lot of effort and risk and not sure I'd feel morally great about it, but each to their own I guess!

My approach was exactly the same as yours and proportionally I paid roughly (within 2-3%) as much tax as I would if I had earned the same amount as a full time employee. About the only thing you are 'dodging' with a low salary as a Director of a Ltd. company and dividends is NIC contributions, which would likely be in the order of £2-3000/year.

The main advantages as I saw them to contacting were:

- day rate roughly twice what I would have earned salary - honest, mercenary working relationship

What do I mean by funny business? I worked in the City of London for a decade, contracting at some fantastic places and with some great colleagues. I would say I was literally the only person I know (of say, 20 colleagues who's affairs I was aware of) who paid tax the entire time. Most never paid any.

An absolute majority of my colleagues entered into the following arrangement, which will be completely familiar to anyone who worked as a contractor in the UK finance sector between 2000/2010:

1. Invoice via an umbrella company which is based offshore 2. Umbrella preferably based inside Europe outside the EU, Northern Cyprus was very common 3. Umbrella company is owned by a trust 4. As a beneficiary of the trust you will be paid a 'loan' roughly every six weeks, since that's not a salary, right? 5. Loans are not taxable. 6. HMRC completely, totally aware of these arrangements. 7. Figure it out, everyone not on PAYE was in on it.

Via this arrangement you can often get 85%+ of your date rate returned to you as 'loans'. I know people who were on these schemes for a decade and dodged in the hundreds of thousands of pounds in personal income tax.

HMRC has sent letters offering to settle cases with 16,000 people, of the people I know I assume they got caught with their hand in the cookie jar for a couple of years, but overall are supremely better off for never having paid tax for the most productive times of their lives.

These are people who often came through state education, drive on state roads, use public services, in the UK which has a rich left/socialist history and have absolutely compunction whatsoever in shirking all and every responsibility they have to contribute in any way.

And as some people in this thread comment - "well, if I wanted to I could write a check to a charity". I heard that so many times from colleagues who had children at local schools, born in the NHS, earning £150k a year, for ten years, who had never pay a cent in tax.

Enjoy being poor plebs, tax is optional. I chose to pay mine.

In the end, some of these people are still my closest friends, we just have very different principles.

I'm relatively wealth in my peer group (disregarding the non-tax-payers who I'm clearly behind). I could be wealthier, but I'm not a fucking parasite.

Got you - I completely agree, I think that is a disgusting attitude. I wasn't sure if you were referring to people saving a few extra £k a year by running a Limited company and expensing things in a totally legal way, or something more drastic - I was assuming the OP was referring to the former, probably read it wrong.

And I absolutely agree about the advantages. I like the fact that I can work for smaller companies on interesting projects who wouldn't be able to pay the kind of permanent salary I would be looking for, and I like the flexibility and potential for variety. I've always found leaving permanent jobs, even for good reasons, a horrible experience - almost as if you are breaking up with them! - so while I'm in a period of my life where I would like as much varied experience as possible, I think contracting makes sense, as long as you are willing to put in the work a) to deliver good results for clients and b) to keep yourself up to speed with technologies.

One thing I haven't seen many people mention on here is that as a contractor, you're much more responsible for your own personal development. If you aren't a motivated self-learner (chances are, if you are reading HN then you at least somewhat match that description though) then you could easily get stuck doing one set of technology and not learning much new (which suits some people well, of course), as companies are a lot less likely to "take a punt" on a contractor who doesn't know their tech stack - they don't want to invest money in getting someone up to speed who is only there for a short time period.

By the same token, I wouldn't expect any significant training to be provided to you as a contractor, so if that kind of thing is important to someone, maybe contracting is not for them. I've been quite lucky so far and been able to move into new areas/technology based on evidence that I can pick new things up, but some places definitely aren't interested in you unless you are already well versed in their tech stack.

You disagree with following the letter of the law and taking home extra thousands of pounds per year? Personally my attitude it that I'll apply whatever optimizations my accountant says I can without being too creative :-)

Also, some companies that masquerade as umbrellas are doing some pretty shady things. If they promise some un-feasibly large percentage of take home pay (over 80%) they're probably doing some dodgy Isle of Man scheme and you'll be left holding the can.

It's a moral/ethical stance, I guess - tax funds social infrastructure and I think we need more of that.

Good point about the shady "base pay + loan you never* have to repay" shenanigans - I suspect HMRC will be onto them soon enough though.

I agree that we do need more of that. I balk at the bombastic talk from the government, (who make the laws in the first place) that it's somehow immoral to optimize your tax affairs. I would much rather see them put simpler legislation in place that means that large companies pay their "fair" share of tax, and tax is easier to deal with for small companies. If I ended up paying a bit more tax under that regime and the current large tax avoiders ended up paying a lot more that could be put towards social infrastructure, that would make me happy.

>It's a moral/ethical stance, I guess - tax funds social infrastructure and I think we need more of that.

Then donate that "optimized" tax money to a charity where it does more good than being pumped in some governmental megaproject that burns most of its funding just on overhead.

What makes you believe that charities spend money more effectively than governments? I would expect the opposite; the government at least has the press and voters trying to hold them to account, whereas charities have very little oversight.

> Then donate that "optimized" tax money to a charity where it does more good

Took the words out of my mouth, exactly my thinking

It's a nice idea but I'm not sure it would make much difference either way (although I do give money to charity anyway.)

I get calls about these every so often, people who sound lot like recruiters but give away the fact they're selling dodgy schemes after a while.

"We can enable you to take home more than 90%!"

"Err, Right, how can you do that then?"

"By structuring your profits through our scheme! We use a combination of tax-haven bank accounts and directors..."

"I'll stop you right there, isn't this what Jimmy Carr off the tv just got spanked for? No thanks, sounds highly unethical to me."

That said I do do things the 'usual' way and pay myself a small salary, with the rest coming in as share dividends. I'm not sure exactly what proportion I pay in taxes vs a salaried employee, but it's non negligible - 20% Corporation tax on all profits (before I get paid), and 25% dividend tax on anything I get paid over the Higher Rate threshold.


If transitioning from PAYE to contractor life (filling in timesheets and other tedia) then the umbrella route is the way to go. You can focus on the job in hand and whatever comes of it. On subsequent contracts there is the opportunity to become your own book keeper and accountant, if you really can be bothered with such things instead of the coding you enjoy.

IMHO the chores of managing timesheets and getting paid are best left to other people, hence umbrella.

As for how much money is needed to get going, with umbrella companies there is an option to be paid early for a small fee, so long as invoices are being paid somewhere down the line. So you don't need to have six months of life savings and insurance stacked up somewhere. You can survive until payday without all that even if the experience is not fun. However, by not spending money you will have more when payday arrives.

I would all the formalities after landing the first contract.

It takes like 15 minutes online to establish limited company.

And when you buy insurance - how do you know which one? My current contract requires me to have 10 million employer liability insurance (I don't hire anyone) but I have to have it anyway.

I guess I'll add some comments in this thread... (if time allows)

Your consulting company employs you :)

I've heard that in the UK, it's much more advantageous to work as a contractor than a full-time employee. Is there any truth to that? What advice would HN offer to a US-based developer looking to move to the UK?

London is a world of her own, my advice relates to her.

The only thing you need to be an IT Contractor in London (other than some skills) is confidence.

I worked a number of contracts over ten years in the finance sector in London. I never had a client pull a contract on me, I always left on my terms. On average I lasted two years until I moved on. Major Retail, Funds management, Investment banking was my progression.

My background was Java (I work almost exclusively with Clojure now, and love it). Java was the language of business in London and I presume it still is. If you want to get a well paid gig in a smart office for a bank or funds management firm then Ruby is not your friend. Why was I motivated to move towards Investment Banking? Well, I'm competitive and it's the hardest market to crack, and it pays a premium. That's it. If you want to stay pure to one language or another and not use your rare skills for the best economic result for yourself that's another choice.

The market is huge, once you've got a recruiter who likes you you'll be offered work fairly continuously.

My contractor rate was roughly double what I would have earned permanent. The contractors I worked with were no better or worse than the permanent staff I worked with, they just had the confidence to strap on their contractor pants and go to work. That. is. all.

Advice like this article is useful enough I guess, but in reality you either have the confidence to go for it or not, and once you have you will never imagine why you waited so long (as long as you've got the ability to land work and impress people).

IR35? Just move every couple of years. Tax? Don't take the piss and HMRC will not bother you. Accountants? Have a crap one for a while and swap. Recruiters? Don't piss them about, realise they are all liars, but necessary. Find a good one and impress their clients. Timing? There's a couple of luls towards Xmas and the EOY, but there are always projects looking to spend money.

It is all confidence, you either do it or you don't, all this other crap follows.

Can you be more specific about the useful skills? Like a list, out of which you need 2 or 3. Would be good to know what specifically companies want you to be confident about :)

Are you a passable Java programmer? Can you speak english to a business level? Can you wear a suit?

Congratulations, you're qualified to work as a contract programmer at a bank in the City of London.

They'd have to pay me double to wear a suit. I'm working poolside in shorts these days.

I'm in the UK for 4.5 years and one of my biggest dreams is move to the US...

Main advantage of being contractor? Much better pay... They say - "no job security" - but there is no such term anyway.

Is the dev scene bad in the UK? Why are you so interested in moving to the US?

The dev scene in the UK is not as great as it is in the US, but it's good. Perhaps the second best after the US.

US is appealing because it's an english speaking country, has a good dev scene and is an interesting country to live in.

Why would you ever want to move here?

You think the NHS is bad, you ain't seen nothing yet.

Very good guide. I am thinking of becoming a contractor but had not idea you needed so much saved up!

Looks like I am gonna have to scrap my lavish summer holiday plans to put money aside...

What do you think is the percentage of contract dev jobs? ( vs permanent )


You invoice £4k. It gets paid into your bank. Congratulations. You just earned £3k.

Anyone know if there is much of a contractor market in Spain?

The salary ceiling is very low in UK.

Almost every salary ceiling is low compared to SV but it's all relative.

It's not particularly difficult to achieve a £100k+ salary in London and you can have a very comfortable lifestyle on a six figure income.


Something of an understatement. There are very few in the UK earn that much...

--edit-- though I do agree money on offer here generally is a joke. Hence going into contracting.

Just out of interest, how?

For a developer, £100k+ as a contractor is not particularly difficult, but as an employee this would be rare, no?

I agree; unless working for google or something, the ceiling for a super-duper dev at hiring time seems to be around 65k -- perhaps a bit more if you stay and negotiate well, but I topped up at 75k before I became a contractor.

Now, this company tax year, I invoiced 120k ex-vat so far, managed to buy a rather large amount of kit on the company (like, that 4k£ dream workstation..) and I finally have the feeling I'm getting paid what I'm worth, without having to do any politics.

I can concentrate on pure engineering, and I don't have to ponder whether I should become some sort of 'manager' to crack up the engineer pay ceiling.

>the ceiling for a super-duper dev at hiring time seems to be around 65k

Not in London. Don't get me wrong, £65k will get you a decent developer but £60k is the starting point for good quality developers in London right now. I'm currently hiring a senior iOS developer and our aim is to hire someone around the £70k mark but I honestly think we'll need to pay more to get the calibre we need.

I've spent the last few years hiring developers in London and I also help run the HN London meet-up and based on first-hand experience along with the huge number of developers I've met through HN London, I can assure you that I'm not exaggerating the figures.

Oh I'm sure in London it's likely to be the case, but I'm around the Thames Valley here. Just the train ticket to London offsets any gain I would have made tho :-)

Anything relatively senior in FinTech encroaches on the six figure salary mark.

Plus there are plenty of experienced Data Scientists getting six figure offers lately. In the past twelve months the market has shifted quite quickly. £60-£70k is becoming the norm for a decent, experienced engineer. Add 'lead' to that title and you'll struggle to find great people for less than £100k.

Considering that £300-£400 per day is a pretty standard contracting rate, companies are ramping up salaries in order to tempt contractors back into salaried roles.

Not for contractors its way higher than permie's pay I have seen year long contracts for data science going at 700/800 per day.

An average day rate for London is £450-500 and that is well north of 100k pa

Tangentially related: I'm a data scientist based in London, and I'm just thinking about becoming a contractor, but I don't see many position. I thought companies, because the strategic knowledge of the position, prefer to have those skills in house... do you think it's true?

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