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Do Freelancers Pay Taxes in the UK? A Comprehensive Guide

Updated: Jul 29, 2023

The United Kingdom is home to a growing number of freelancers, offering their services across various industries. With the rise of the gig economy and remote work opportunities, more people are opting for self-employment. However, with this decision comes certain responsibilities, including the need to pay taxes. This article will provide a comprehensive guide to tax obligations and the process of paying taxes as a freelancer in the UK.


Who is a Freelancer?

A freelancer is an individual who works for themselves, offering services and delivering projects on a contract-by-contract basis for several clients. Examples include freelance writers and graphic designers. Freelancers can operate under various business structures, including as sole traders, a personal service companies (PSC), or an umbrella company worker.


Freelance Tax: How Does It Work?

Freelancers operating as sole traders pay personal income tax on trading profits at a rate of up to 45% (46% in Scotland). If operating as a limited company, the company must pay a corporation tax of 19% on company profits, and the freelancer also has to pay tax on amounts extracted from the limited company. Freelancers also pay National Insurance Contributions.


Income Tax Rates for Freelancers

Freelancers operating as sole traders pay income tax on trading profits above the personal allowance of £12,570 at rates of up to 45% (46% in Scotland). Those running a limited company pay income tax on any salary and dividends they take from the business. The tax rates vary based on the taxable income and the tax band the freelancer falls into.


Paying Tax on Freelance Work

Freelancers pay taxes on their personal income after submitting an annual self-assessment tax return. If you run a limited company, you also need to pay corporation tax as well as file a company tax return and company accounts. The tax bill is generally paid in two installments by 31st January and 31st July each year.

Do Freelancers Pay Taxes in the UK


1. Understanding the Freelancer Tax Landscape in the UK

In the UK, freelancers are classified as self-employed individuals who work independently for multiple clients. They are responsible for managing their taxes, which include income tax, National Insurance Contributions (NICs), and in some cases, Value Added Tax (VAT).


2. Registering for Self-Assessment

As a freelancer, you must register with HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) for Self-Assessment. This is a system that allows you to report your income and expenses, calculate your tax liabilities, and make payments. You need to register within the first three months of starting your freelance business. Once registered, you will receive a Unique Taxpayer Reference (UTR) number, which is necessary for filing your Self-Assessment tax returns.


3. National Insurance Contributions (NICs)

Freelancers must pay Class 2 and Class 4 NICs, which contribute towards state benefits such as the State Pension and certain other allowances. Class 2 NICs are a fixed weekly amount, while Class 4 NICs are based on a percentage of your annual profits. Freelancers are also required to pay National Insurance Contributions (NICs). The type of NICs that apply to freelancers depends on how they are running their business and if they are impacted by IR35 or ‘off-payroll’ rules. National Insurance does not apply to dividend income.


4. Income Tax Rates and Thresholds

Freelancers pay income tax on their taxable profits, which is their income minus any allowable expenses and deductions. The amount of income tax due depends on your income level and the current tax bands:


Personal Allowance: £12,570 (tax-free)

Basic Rate: 20% (£12,571 - £50,270)

Higher Rate: 40% (£50,271 - £150,000)

Additional Rate: 45% (above £150,000)


5. Deductible Expenses and Allowances

Freelancers can claim various expenses and allowances to reduce their taxable profits. Some common deductible expenses include:


  • Office supplies and equipment

  • Business travel

  • Marketing and advertising costs

  • Professional fees (e.g., accountant, lawyer)

  • Home office expenses

  • Training and education costs


It is essential to keep accurate records of your expenses to support your claims.


6. VAT Registration and Payment

Freelancers with an annual turnover exceeding the VAT threshold (£85,000 as of 2023) must register for VAT. You will charge VAT on your invoices, which are then paid to HMRC. There are various VAT schemes available, such as the Flat Rate Scheme and the Cash Accounting Scheme, designed to simplify VAT accounting for small businesses.


7. Making Tax Digital (MTD) and Online Tax Filing

HMRC's Making Tax Digital (MTD) initiative aims to make tax administration more efficient and easier for taxpayers. Freelancers with a turnover above the VAT threshold must use MTD-compatible software to maintain digital records and submit VAT returns.


8. Tax Penalties and Late Payments

Freelancers must be vigilant in adhering to tax deadlines and payment requirements, as failure to do so can result in penalties and late payment fees imposed by HMRC. Some common penalties include:


Late filing penalties: If you miss the Self-Assessment tax return deadline (January 31st for online returns), you will be charged a £100 penalty. Additional penalties accrue if the return remains outstanding after three, six, and twelve months.


Late payment penalties: If you don't pay your tax liability on time, a penalty of 5% of the outstanding tax is charged after 30 days, six months, and twelve months.

Interest: HMRC charges daily interest on late tax payments and penalties, which can accumulate over time.


To avoid these penalties, it is essential for freelancers to stay organized, maintain accurate records, and set reminders for upcoming tax deadlines. Engaging the services of a professional accountant or tax advisor can also help ensure timely tax compliance.


9. Key Tax Deadlines for Freelancers in the UK

For freelancers in the UK, being aware of key tax deadlines is crucial to ensure timely compliance and avoid penalties. Here are some important dates to remember:


  • Self-Assessment registration: Register with HMRC within three months of starting your freelance business to avoid a penalty.

  • Self-Assessment tax return filing: For online submissions, the deadline is January 31st following the end of the tax year (April 5th). For paper returns, the deadline is earlier, on October 31st.

  • Tax payment deadlines: Payments for income tax and Class 4 NICs are due on January 31st and July 31st. Class 2 NICs can be paid annually by January 31st or monthly through a Direct Debit arrangement.

  • VAT deadlines: VAT-registered freelancers must submit their VAT returns and payments quarterly, generally one month and seven days after the end of the VAT period.


By staying on top of these deadlines and employing good record-keeping practices, freelancers can ensure smooth tax compliance and minimize the risk of penalties and late payment charges.


10. Claimable Expenses for Freelancers

HMRC allows self-employed business owners to deduct certain business expenses to reduce the trading profit on which they are taxed. Allowable expenses for freelancers include office supplies, travel, business premises, training courses related to your business, staff salaries, marketing and advertising, and finance charges.


Understanding IR35

IR35 is a set of rules that aims to combat alleged tax avoidance by contractors and the clients they work for. If the contractor is found to be a ‘disguised employee’ and inside IR35, the rules broadly require that the contractor must pay income tax and NICs as if they were an employee.


Is Freelance the Same As Self-Employed in the UK


Is Freelance the Same As Self-Employed in the UK?

Yes, in the UK, the terms "freelance" and "self-employed" are often used interchangeably. Both refer to individuals who work independently, offering their services to multiple clients rather than being employed by a single company. Freelancers and self-employed individuals have similar tax obligations, including registering for Self-Assessment with HMRC, paying income tax and National Insurance Contributions, and potentially registering for VAT if their annual turnover exceeds the threshold.


Earnings Before Paying Tax for Freelancers in the UK


Personal Allowance for Sole Traders

Freelancers operating as sole traders pay income tax on trading profits above the personal allowance of £12,570 at rates of up to 45% (46% in Scotland).

Income Tax Rates for 2022-23

The income tax rates for the tax year 2022-23 are as follows:


England, Wales, and Northern Ireland

  • Personal allowance: Up to £12,570 - 0% tax

  • Basic rate: £12,501 to £50,270 - 20% tax

  • Higher rate: £50,271 to £150,000 - 40% tax

  • Additional rate: Over £150,000 - 45% tax

Note: The personal allowance reduces by £1 for every £2 of income above £100,000.


Scotland

  • Personal allowance: Up to £12,570 - 0% tax

  • Starter rate: £12,571 to £14,732 - 19% tax

  • Scottish Basic rate: £14,733 to £25,688 - 20% tax

  • Intermediate rate: £25,689 to £43,662 - 21% tax

  • Higher rate: £43,663 to £150,000 - 41% tax

  • Top rate: Above £150,000 - 46% tax

Note: There is no personal allowance for income above £125,140.


Dividend Allowance and Tax Rates

Limited company directors pay income tax on any salary that they take from their business at the above rates. Where they decide to withdraw part of the profits as dividends, they must pay income tax on these dividends. The dividend allowance applies a nil rate of tax on the first £1,000 of dividends. Beyond that, the dividend tax rates for the tax year 202/23 are as follows:

  • Basic rate taxpayer: 8.75%

  • Higher rate taxpayer: 33.75%

  • Additional rate taxpayer: 39.35%


National Insurance Contributions

Freelancers also need to pay National Insurance Contributions (NICs). The self-employed can earn £11,908 before paying Class 4 NICs for the 2022-23 tax year. The rates are 10.25% on profits between £11,908 and £50,270. For-profits over £50,270, the rate reduces to 3.25%.


A Summary

The new tax year started on April 6th, and freelancers should be aware of the updated tax rates and allowances for 2023/24. These updates will help freelancers calculate their net income after tax, VAT, and other deductions. Whether you're handling your taxes independently or through an accountant, it's important to know your potential savings and expenditures.


For the 2023/24 tax year, the personal tax allowance remains at £12,570, the same as in 2022/23. Any income from freelancing over this amount will be subject to income tax. The income tax bands differ across England, Wales, Northern Ireland, and Scotland.

In England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, the income tax bands are as follows:

  • 20% basic rate for earnings between £12,571- £50,270.

  • 40% tax for earnings between £50,271- £125,140.

  • 45% tax for earnings over £125,140.

In Scotland, the tax bands are:

  • 19% for earnings between £12,571-£14,732.

  • 20% for earnings between £14,733 to £25,688.

  • 21% for earnings between £25,689-£43,662.

  • 42% for earnings between £43,663-£125,140.

  • 47% for earnings over £125,140.

The dividends allowance for 2023/24 has been reduced to £1,000. Freelancers will need to pay tax on any dividend income over this amount. The tax rates on dividends are 8.75% for the basic rate, 33.75% for the higher rate, and 39.35% for the additional rate.

Capital gains tax applies to the profit made when selling an asset that has increased in value. The basic rate is 18% for residential property and 10% for other assets. The higher rate is 28% for residential property and 20% for other assets. The annual exempt amount is £6,000 for individuals and £3,000 for trustees.


Corporation tax is 19% for companies with profits up to £50,000, and 25% for profits over £250,000. The standard VAT rate is 20%, with a reduced rate of 5% and a zero rate of 0%. Freelancers need to register for VAT if their annual turnover is £85,000 or more.

National Insurance Class 1A rate is 13.8%. Class 1 deductions can only be made on earnings above the lower earnings limit. The thresholds for Class 1 are £123 per week or £6,396 per year for the lower earnings limit, £242 per week or £12,570 per year for the primary threshold, and £175 per week or £9,100 per year for the secondary threshold.

Freelancers can claim tax relief on pension savings. The relief is 20% up to the income you make and pay 40% tax, and 25% on any income where you pay 45% tax. The maximum amount that can be saved into an ISA account for the 2023/24 tax year is £20,000.


The Inheritance Tax Threshold remains at £325,000. Anything over this threshold will be taxed at 40%. If the will includes a donation of 10% or more in net value to charity, the inheritance tax rate may be reduced to 36%.

The Stamp Duty Land Tax rates for 2023/24 are as follows:

  • 3% for £0-£125,000

  • 5% for £125,000-£250,000

  • 8% for £250,001-£925,000

  • 13% for £925,001-£1,500,000.





The Role of a Tax Accountant for Freelancers in the UK

Freelancers in the UK have a unique set of tax obligations that can be complex to navigate. This is where the services of a tax accountant come in handy. A tax accountant is a professional who specializes in managing and advising on tax matters. They can help freelancers understand their tax obligations, plan for tax payments, and ensure compliance with tax laws.


Understanding Tax Obligations

One of the primary roles of a tax accountant is to help freelancers understand their tax obligations. This includes explaining the different types of taxes that freelancers are liable for, such as income tax, National Insurance Contributions (NICs), and possibly Value Added Tax (VAT) if their turnover exceeds the VAT threshold. They also help freelancers understand the tax implications of their business structure, whether they operate as a sole trader, a limited company, or under an umbrella company.


Tax Planning and Advice

Tax accountants provide valuable advice on tax planning. This involves strategies to minimize tax liability within the confines of the law. For example, they can advise on the timing of income and expenses to take advantage of tax allowances and reliefs. They can also guide freelancers on the most tax-efficient way to extract profits from their business, particularly if they operate as a limited company.


Preparing and Filing Tax Returns

One of the key services provided by tax accountants is the preparation and filing of tax returns. In the UK, freelancers are required to submit a Self-Assessment tax return each year, detailing their income and expenses. If they operate as a limited company, they also need to file a company tax return. Tax accountants ensure that these returns are accurately prepared and submitted on time, helping freelancers avoid penalties for late or incorrect submissions.


Handling HMRC Correspondence

Dealing with HMRC can be daunting for freelancers. Tax accountants can handle all correspondence with HMRC on behalf of the freelancer, including responding to queries, dealing with tax investigations, and negotiating payment plans if the freelancer is unable to pay their tax bill on time.


Claiming Allowable Expenses

Tax accountants can advise freelancers on the expenses they can claim to reduce their taxable profit. This includes direct costs like travel and office supplies, as well as indirect costs like a proportion of home expenses if the freelancer works from home. They can also guide freelancers on the records they need to keep to substantiate these expense claims.


Navigating Complex Tax Rules

Certain tax rules can be particularly complex for freelancers. One example is the IR35 legislation, which targets 'disguised employment' where a freelancer operates as an employee but uses a limited company to pay less tax. Tax accountants can help freelancers understand if they are affected by IR35 and what they need to do to comply with the rules.


In conclusion, a tax accountant is an invaluable resource for freelancers in the UK. They provide expert advice and support to help freelancers manage their tax obligations, minimize their tax liability, and ensure compliance with tax laws. By taking the stress out of tax management, they allow freelancers to focus on what they do best - running their business.



Conclusion

By following this step-by-step guide, freelancers in the UK can confidently navigate their tax obligations and ensure compliance. Good record-keeping practices, staying informed about tax legislation, and seeking professional assistance when needed can simplify the process and provide peace of mind.

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