An increasing number of individuals are finding work through online platforms (for example Deliveroo and Uber workers), usually on a self-employed basis, whereas in the past they might have been employees whose relatively simple tax affairs were dealt with under PAYE. The Office for Tax Simplification (OTS) has published a paper entitled Platforms, the Platform economy and Tax Simplification, which explores the possibility of re-creating for them, in the context of self-employment, an arrangement that looks and feels more similar to that of an employee from an administrative point of view. Such an arrangement might prevent large numbers of individuals having to submit a self-assessment tax return and a computation of their self-employment income.
In outline, the platform would sign up with HMRC as ‘agent’ for the platform worker, so that they can apply the equivalent of a tax code. Workers would be able to their taxable profits computed in real time. The platform would then withhold tax, either on an even basis or ‘back-end’ loaded for those with more fluctuating income, which it would then pay on account to HMRC.
The platform will then be able to ‘correct’ the withholding at the end of the year so the platform worker has nothing further to do. The OTS says this mechanism could initially apply only to large platforms but, over time, could be extended to smaller engagers.
In conjunction with private sector developments in making it easier for people to manage their tax affairs, HMRC might also consider opportunities to streamline its engagement with self-employed platform workers, for example by developing a phone application (for example, along the lines of that available in Australia) which operate alongside these new accounting products.
Work will continue on the proposals, with further announcements to be expected in due course.