Are contractors considered self employed?

Are Contractors Considered Self Employed

In the dynamic world of work, the lines between self-employment and contracting can often appear blurred. While these terms are frequently used interchangeably, they represent distinct working arrangements with unique implications for taxation, employment rights, and operational dynamics.

This guide delves into the nuances that differentiate self-employed individuals from contractors, illuminating the crucial considerations for those navigating these professional pathways in the United Kingdom.

Employment status

An individual's employment status serves as the cornerstone upon which their legal rights and tax obligations are determined. Although the term "self-employment" lacks a definitive legal definition, it generally encompasses business owners or contractors who provide services to other entities, either directly or through a personal services company.

Self-employed individuals are typically characterised by their ability to bid or quote for work, exercise control over how and when tasks are executed, and supply the necessary tools to complete their assignments. Crucially, they assume responsibility for their income tax, National Insurance contributions (NICs), and Value Added Tax (VAT) arrangements.

Contractors: A blend of self-employment and employment

Contractors operate in a grey area between self-employment and traditional employment. While they are engaged for specific projects or predetermined duration, their working arrangements often resemble those of short-term employees. Contractors frequently work on-site at their clients' premises, functioning akin to temporary staff members, yet without the employment rights and responsibilities of permanent employees.

The distinction between contractors and employees can be further muddied by the involvement of recruitment agencies or intermediaries. In such cases, contractors may be classified as "agency workers," affording them minimal employment rights, such as the entitlement to the National Minimum Wage. Alternatively, if a contractor has a "pay between assignments" contract, they may be classified as an employee, granting them additional rights and responsibilities.

Employment rights

The employment rights and protections afforded to individuals vary significantly across the spectrum of self-employment, contracting, and traditional employment. While self-employed individuals generally have limited statutory rights beyond protection against discrimination in certain circumstances and adherence to health and safety regulations, employees enjoy a comprehensive range of entitlements.

These include protection against unfair dismissal, statutory minimum notice periods, redundancy pay, family-related rights, and safeguards against unlawful deductions from wages. Workers, a category encompassing both employees and some self-employed individuals, also benefit from certain rights, such as minimum wage protections, working time regulations, and whistle blowing safeguards.

Contractor insurance considerations

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Advantages and disadvantages

Both self-employment and contracting offer distinct advantages and disadvantages for individuals and businesses alike. From an employer's perspective, self-employed contractors can provide cost-effective access to specialised skills and flexibility in staffing, albeit with reduced control and potential instability. Conversely, employees offer a reliable workforce with greater productivity incentives, but at a higher cost and with increased administrative complexities.

For individuals, self-employment presents the allure of autonomy, flexible working arrangements, and the potential for higher earnings. However, it also carries the burden of inconsistent income streams, lack of employment benefits, and heightened administrative responsibilities. Contracting strikes a balance, offering greater independence than traditional employment while providing a steadier flow of work and income, albeit with fewer employment rights.

Choosing the appropriate contractual arrangement

When determining the most suitable contractual arrangement, businesses and individuals must carefully evaluate factors such as the nature of the work, project duration, risk tolerance, and desired level of control. Employment contracts, typically used for permanent employees, outline standard provisions regarding pay, benefits, and notice periods. Conversely, contracts for services define the specific services to be rendered by self-employed individuals, with limited employment rights and benefits.

Businesses must exercise caution in distinguishing between employees and self-employed contractors, as misclassification can lead to unpaid taxes, penalties, and potential loss of entitlements or benefits. Comprehensive assessments, clear communication, and well-documented processes are crucial to mitigating risks and ensuring compliance.


Whether pursuing self-employment, contracting, or traditional employment, the path chosen should align with individual aspirations, skills, and lifestyle preferences. Self-employment offers the allure of autonomy and the potential for higher earnings, while contracting provides a balance between independence and steady income streams. Traditional employment, on the other hand, offers stability, access to benefits, and a structured career progression.

Ultimately, the decision rests on weighing the advantages and disadvantages of each arrangement, considering factors such as income stability, work-life balance, contractor insurance, risk tolerance, and personal values. By carefully evaluating these considerations and seeking professional guidance when necessary, individuals can make informed choices that pave the way for a fulfilling and rewarding professional journey.


Frequently asked questions


What is an independent contractor?

An independent contractor in the UK is a self-employed individual who provides services to clients under terms specified in a contract, rather than as an employee of the client. Unlike employees, independent contractors have the flexibility to choose their working hours, methods, and tools, and are responsible for their own taxes and National Insurance contributions. They typically manage multiple clients and are not entitled to the same employment rights and benefits, such as holiday pay or sick leave. This arrangement allows businesses to access specialised skills and services without the long-term commitment of hiring permanent staff.

Do self-employed contractors pay taxes?

Yes, self-employed contractors are required to pay taxes. In the United Kingdom, they must register with HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) and complete an annual Self Assessment tax return. This process ensures they report their income accurately and pay the appropriate amount of Income Tax and National Insurance contributions. Unlike employees who have taxes deducted at source through PAYE, self-employed individuals are responsible for calculating and submitting their tax payments.

Do contractors get holiday or sick pay in the UK?

In the United Kingdom, contractors generally do not receive holiday or sick pay, as these benefits are typically reserved for employees. Contractors operate under a different legal framework than employees and are often considered self-employed. Consequently, they are responsible for managing their own time off and financial provisions for illness. However, certain contractors may work under specific contracts that include such benefits, but this is the exception rather than the rule. It is crucial for contractors to thoroughly review their contracts and understand their entitlements before commencing any contractual work.

What is an employment tribunal in the UK?

An employment tribunal in the UK is a judicial body established to resolve disputes between employers and employees regarding employment rights. These tribunals handle cases related to unfair dismissal, discrimination, wages, redundancy payments, and other employment issues. They operate in a manner similar to courts aiming to provide an accessible and efficient means for resolving workplace conflicts. Decisions made by employment tribunals are legally binding, and both parties typically present their evidence and arguments without the need for legal representation, although legal advice is often sought.

Can I be a self employed contractor in the UK?

Yes, you can be a self-employed contractor in the UK. To do so, you must register as self-employed with HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC). This entails managing your own tax and National Insurance contributions, maintaining accurate financial records, and submitting an annual Self Assessment tax return. Additionally, it is advisable to consider professional indemnity insurance to protect against potential liabilities. Being self-employed also affords you the flexibility to choose your clients and set your own rates, although it requires a high degree of self-discipline and financial management. Engaging with a professional accountant can be beneficial in navigating these responsibilities.

What is a freelancer?

Freelancers, on the other hand, often service multiple clients simultaneously, working from their own premises or home offices. Unlike contractors, freelancers are not typically bound by set working hours or designated workspaces. Instead, they charge hourly, daily, or project-based rates, managing their own time and deadlines to deliver bespoke products or services.

Freelancing is prevalent in creative industries such as graphic design, architecture, copywriting, and media, where professionals are commissioned to produce tailored work within specified timeframes. This flexible arrangement also appeals to individuals seeking supplemental income streams, including those in full or part-time employment and students.

Is being a contractor work flexible?

As the world of work continues to evolve, the boundaries between self-employment and contracting are likely to become increasingly fluid. Technological advancements, changing workforce dynamics, and shifting societal attitudes towards work-life balance are reshaping the traditional notions of employment.

In this dynamic landscape, individuals and businesses alike must remain agile, adaptable, and informed. By understanding the nuances of self-employment and contracting, they can navigate the complexities of employment status, taxation, and legal obligations, ultimately positioning themselves for success in an ever-changing professional environment.

What is employment law in the UK?

Employment law in the UK encompasses a range of legal rules and regulations governing the relationship between employers and employees. It includes provisions on employment contracts, wages, working hours, discrimination, health and safety, and redundancy. This body of law aims to protect workers' rights while ensuring fair treatment in the workplace. Key legislation includes the Employment Rights Act 1996, the Equality Act 2010, and the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. Compliance with these laws is crucial for both employers and employees to maintain harmonious and lawful working conditions.

What is IR35 legislation?

The IR35 legislation, introduced by HMRC to combat perceived tax losses through the use of PSCs, has significant implications for contractors. Prior to April 2021, the responsibility for determining IR35 applicability and accounting for PAYE and NICs rested with the intermediary (PSC). However, since then, the onus has shifted to the client to assess whether IR35 applies and, if so, to deduct the necessary taxes and contributions from payments made to the intermediary.

It's crucial for businesses to establish robust processes for identifying contractors operating through PSCs, assessing IR35 applicability, communicating determinations, and ensuring compliance with the associated tax obligations.

How can I market my contracting business?

Marketing your contracting business effectively requires a strategic blend of traditional and digital approaches. Start by establishing a strong online presence through a professional website showcasing your services, past projects, and customer testimonials. Utilise social media platforms to engage with potential clients and demonstrate your expertise through informative content. Networking within industry circles, attending trade shows, and joining local business groups can also help you build valuable connections.