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Is contracting for you?

Uncategorized April 21, 2009

Is contracting for you?

Every year over 250,000 new graduates pour out of the UK’s Universities, wide-eyed and excited about the prospects ahead of them. And rightly so. But every year we are told that there are only around 80,000 formal Graduate jobs available to receive this huge population. So where do they all end up?

To make matters worse, this year the number of vacancies is down, with many of the banks disappearing from the normal campus milkrounds altogether, and lots of other companies following suit. Only the large accountancy firms seem to be holding their nerve and still hiring graduates in large numbers. They learnt a lesson in the last economic down turn and found themselves short of talent when the market picked up. They aren’t going to be caught out this time.

So where do all the Graduates go?

Well, obviously, some pack their bags and go travelling, disappearing, albeit temporarily, out of the UK job market. You can see this in the statistics that show that, in any one year, the graduate intake of many of the big graduate corporate schemes is made up of graduates from previous years, rather than those graduating that same year. Others start their own businesses, often spawned from ideas tried and tested on campus or amongst their University friends and colleagues.

Probably the largest group move into the more general job market – jobs not officially designated as graduate roles, more informal entry points or apprenticeships across industry and commerce and the public sector.


A significant number of graduates find work taking up temporary contracts while they think more about what they want to do longer term. Contracting can be an ideal way to explore the workplace, before settling in to a longer-term career.

It is an ideal opportunity for the employer also, as seeing the contractor in a real life working situation over a period of time, is a far better selection process than any interview or psychometric test. And the employer can do this without the longer term commitment of taking on a permanent new employee.

As well as leading onto permanent opportunities, many other people use Contracting as a positive career choice. Large numbers of permanent employees leave the permanent employment market to become long term contractors. So what are the pros and cons?

The disadvantage of being a contractor is that your status doesn’t attract as many employment rights as a permanent employee. Permanent employees often receive a range of benefits, medical insurance and life assurance, for example, and a company has a greater commitment to training and development.

The advantage is that you’ll often earn more than a permanent employee doing a similar role, to compensate you for all of those things.

What about my Tax?

If you are employed by an organisation, which normally means being on their payroll, your Tax and National Insurance contributions will be being deducted through the PAYE (pay as you earn) system. You receive the net pay.

As a contractor, the money is paid directly to you without the Tax and NI deductions, or you are paid via a third party, often a contract agency. There are different options available to handle the Tax. You can set yourself up as a Limited Company, which can offer tax breaks. Essentially you get paid your income gross and you are responsible for sorting out and paying your tax and NI – often this is a better solution for high earners who can afford an accountant to do this form them.

The key thing to remember about your Tax or NI is that not paying the right amount can leave you with a lot of pain and anxiety for many years. The government, through the HMRC, is very diligent about chasing down defaulters, or people who make genuine mistakes, and they have long memories. Paying the right amount as you go along will protect you from finding large debt obligations later on and potentially ruinous claims and even prison!

Umbrella Companies

A somewhat simpler solution is the umbrella company. This, essentially, sits between you and either your contracting agency, or your end client. They bill the organisation for your services and then pay you through their payroll. The Umbrella Company works out the Tax and NI contributions and deducts these at source, paying you the net amount. This way you stay up to date with your liabilities with the HMRC, (the funky new name for the Inland Revenue) in a similar way to being permanently employed. There is also the advantage that you can claim tax relief on relevant daily expenses – the cost of your travel, and subsistence, for example, which reduces overall the tax you pay, and increases the money you bring in.

One such umbrella company is Conduit People Management, based in Reading, ( Conduit was set up by David Brownlow, a graduate of Northumbria University who in 2005 was awarded E&Y Entrepreneur of the Year. Brownlow’s group consists of a number of successful Resourcing companies and has been founded upon servicing the Financial Services sector, supplying teams of people to carry out various projects. Brownlow has built the business on a backbone of integrity and ethical business practices, as the Financial Services industry is now rich with rules and regulations and insists upon the highest of standards.

"Tax is a tricky business", says Brownlow, "and an umbrella company is a good way of staying on the right side of the law. They should be simple to use, and they’ll handle your tax obligations for you". But you do have to deal with the right one. "I am worried that some of the advice that people are getting from the industry at large isn’t quite right and this might create contractors some trouble later on, possibly even having to repay a large Tax bill later on, for example."

"I set up Conduit to sit alongside my other businesses to provide an easy to use, compliant service to people who wanted to work as contractors, especially those working as contractors for the first time, to support and hand-hold them through the tax minefield," says Brownlow.

There’s plenty of resource and advice available on the web to help and support people looking at contracting as a career option and whether you use it as a step into a permanent role, or as a longer term option, with all the flexibility that affords, it might well be worth a further look.


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