The fears that compel contractors to regard Brexit as a bigger drain to their confidence than IR35 have been laid bare in a new report by a freelance trade body.
In probing its own finding from December (so before a vow to consult on private sector IR35 reform) IPSE has now uncovered disquiet among most contractors on three big Brexit issues.
On the financial impact, a hefty 81% of contractors say their costs will increase in the lead-up to Britain formally leaving the European Union by March 29th 2019.
On their business outlook, another clear majority of 61% say that the UK’s ‘leave’ decision is the main factor negatively affecting their business confidence.
And on the UK’s position overall, just over half (54%) of contractors described themselves as “concerned” about the progress of London’s negotiations with Brussels.
Chris Bryce, chief executive of the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed (IPSE), said the findings were a “serious concern” for the government, as it enters the final, decisive few months of talks.
“Negotiations so far have focused on the concerns of bigger businesses,” said the association, sounding sympathetic to fears the government is not prioritising small, sole-person businesses.
“The government simply cannot afford to overlook the needs of Britain’s self-employed, who collectively contributed £271billion to the economy in 2017 — enough to fund the NHS twice over.”
According to the poll, run for IPSE by ComRes, most contractors want a ‘soft’ Brexit that causes minimal disruption, but which grants them single market access and free movement.
But if EU freelancers can easily work in the UK (and vice versa), it means making Britain “a country that works for freelancers – [in terms of] tax and welfare…and…training.”
Turning to immigration the association added: “None of the traditional models of high-skilled labour migration are suited to meet demands for flexible labour.”
So it says “the government needs to develop alternative options for meeting the needs of flexible labour both to maintain opportunities for UK freelancers abroad and to protect sectors vital to the UK economy.”
Possible models outlined in IPSE’s report ‘Brexit deal for the self-employed’, include Self-Employed visas; Occupation-Specific or Sector-Specific visas and Temporary Work visas.
“It feels like the voice of the self-employed has been lost in the Brexit discussion,” says one freelance professional featured in the report.
“What really matters to me is whether industries stay in the UK and freelancing opportunities still exist. Making sure we have close access to the single market is therefore crucial.”
IPSE’s Mr Bryce, himself a former contractor enforced: “As the UK plots its path through Brexit, the government should recognise the central role the self-employed will play in taking us through this turbulent period.”
And he sounded an appeal: “For the sake of this crucial sector, the government must replace the uncertainty and turbulence we have seen recently with calm, clarity and confidence.”