The Freelancer and Contractor Services Association protects the rights of flexible workers.

Tuesday 5 March 2013

For all of the benefits it brings, working as a contractor can often come with complications. In the absence of a payroll specialist, it can be difficult to get to grips with different regulations and processes for different types of business.

Many contractors find the solution in firms providing specialist services for sole traders, taking some of the pressure off so that they can get on with what they do best. So that they can rest assured knowing that their livelihoods are in safe hands, Brookson was among the founding members of the Freelancer and Contractor Services Association (FCSA).

Consisting of companies providing specialist payroll, accounting and administrative services to contractors, the FCSA exists to promote best practice across the industry while protecting the interests of freelance clients.

Acting as a voice for service providers, FCSA sets out to gain recognition of the value of freelance workers’ contribution to the British economy and promote a fair business environment.

As part of its quest to establish best practice across the sector, FCSA has also established its code of conduct to make sure that openness and transparency remain central. All companies that sign up to the code undergo a comprehensive review, which starts with a lengthy questionnaire.

This is followed up with an onsite assessment, where FCSA staff meet key employees and review existing practices to verify that everything is up to scratch. Prospective members then undergo an independent review from a major accountancy practice, with all the paperwork being sent to HMRC - making sure that transparency and ethical practice take centre stage at all times.

Under the terms of the code, umbrella companies are expected to provide workers with clear introductory letters mapping out the firm’s services before they sign up, as well as all of the rights that a permanent employee would enjoy such as holiday pay, sick leave, parenthood rights and the opportunity to join a pension scheme.

Expenses claims must always be compliant both with the provider’s own policy and with HMRC. Adherence to the working time directive is also compulsory, while data protection standards are also assessed to make sure that personal information is always stored securely.

Limited companies face different expectations. Firstly, the services they provide cannot put them in any position to make business decisions for sole traders, to prevent the business from mutating into a managed service company.

In addition, customers have to be given clear and thorough information on their responsibilities as owners of their own companies and made fully aware of all of the work options available to them. Then FCSA signatories must only ever sell the way of working appropriate to that customer, never pushing them towards something that doesn’t work for them.

Because this is all designed to maintain the highest possible standard of service, FCSA will never accept firms adding hidden charges for things like processing expenses or paying less than minimum wage.

In the end, the code is intended to make sure contractors never lose out compared to employees and has already enjoyed a great deal of success. Recently FCSA has been working with the Office for Tax Simplification on IR35 legislation, and successfully lobbied government in 2008 over proposals to withdraw tax relief on expenses for those who work for umbrella companies. Freelance workers can rest assured that they are in safe hands.

By Victoria McDonnell

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