With over 500 umbrella companies in the UK to choose from, it’s a good idea to pick one with an accreditation from a professional body. Two leading professional bodies in the UK are committed to ensuring the supply chain of temporary workers is compliant and ethical – the Freelancer and Contractor Services Association (FCSA) and Professional Passport.
To obtain an accreditation from either the FCSA
or Professional Passport
, umbrella companies must undergo a strict series of assessments and audits to prove they operate compliantly and follow HMRC’s rules and regulations. Once accreditation is obtained, umbrellas must annually prove they still adhere to the strictest compliance standards and are complying with UK tax law
Accrued Holiday Pay
Umbrella company employees are entitled to holiday pay which is calculated at 12.07% of the assignment rate. Some umbrella companies will give employees the option to have accrued holiday pay. This means that the umbrella will hold back holiday pay until the employee opts to have it paid to them in a lump sum at a later date.
There are plenty of advantages of using an umbrella company
for your payroll. Precise advantages will vary between providers but include: compliance (PAYE), no tie-in period
, minimal administration, an easy registration process, employee benefits, continuity of employment, added extras (such as an employee reward scheme), low weekly/monthly cost (umbrella margin), and Same Day Faster Payments.
The apprenticeship levy is an employment cost that is deducted for the assignment rate an umbrella employee agrees with their end-client or agency. Calculated at 0.5% of an employer’s annual salary bill, the apprenticeship levy, unsurprisingly, is a tax to fund apprenticeships in the UK.
The assignment rate is the pay rate that a worker agrees to undertake a contract. The assignment rate (gross) will be subject to PAYE deductions and employment costs and will include any holiday pay that a worker has.
When you register with an umbrella company, you become an employee, and the umbrella is your employer. As a result, the umbrella is legally required to auto-enrol you into a pension scheme within 12 weeks. However, while this may be frustrating if you don’t want to contribute towards a pension, you can opt out after making your first contribution. Any contributions you have made will be returned to you as long as you opt out within the specified timeframe.
A type of payment in the UK where funds are sent directly from one bank account to another. This is how umbrella companies process payroll for employees.
Established in 2006, Contract Eye
is a leading source of information designed to help temporary workers flourish within their sector. Visit the website
for information to help you understand contracting and to help you understand limited company contracting and working through an umbrella company.
Contract of Employment
Before you officially complete your registration with an umbrella company
and can receive payments, you will need to thoroughly review a contract of employment that the umbrella will send you. Assuming you’re happy with its content, sign the Contract of Employment and return it to the umbrella to complete the onboarding processes.
Many contractors prefer to operate through a personal service company (PSC) – a limited company. This is a popular option for those working on assignments outside IR35
because if you’re inside IR35, there are no tax benefits of being the director of a limited company. If you are a limited company contractor, or it’s something you’re considering in the future, there are plenty of specialist UK-based contractor accountants
who can help you with your business.
Contractor UK Contractor UK
is a very popular source of the latest news affecting contractors and freelancers. Launched in 1999, the site receives hundreds of thousands of visitors monthly and has the most recognised contractor forum in the sector. If you’re interested in the latest sector news, you may find it beneficial to register for the free Contractor UK newsletter. And why not create an account on the forum to communicate with like-minded professionals?
Contractor Voice Contractor Voice
is a website and body that ensures contractors and freelancers are paid fairly. Founded by a contractor, the site has lots of helpful advice – especially regarding holiday pay.
There are several disadvantages of using umbrella companies for your payroll (compared to other options such as operating through a personal service company). A lot depends on your circumstances, but some of the widely agreed disadvantages of using an umbrella company
are: not very tax efficient (PAYE), lack of control over finances, statutory employee benefits are not great compared to some of the benefits permanent members of staff may receive from their employer, the supply chain may result in delays to your payments - and it's out of your hands, there are plenty of unethical umbrellas out there targeting contractors and freelancers, and choosing a compliant umbrella isn't as easy as it should be, and it's unlikely you can claim tax relief on expenses.
Throughout this website, you will see many sentences along the lines of – “it’s important you conduct thorough due diligence before selecting an umbrella company for your payroll”. But what does this mean? Simply put, you’re responsible for your payroll (regarding choosing an umbrella). Therefore, you must conduct in-depth research into your chosen provider to ensure they’re compliant and provide dependable service. Even by mistake, engaging with a tax avoidance scheme
could land you in serious trouble with HMRC.
When you join an umbrella, you become an employee. As a result, you will have access to statutory employee benefits
including sick pay and maternity/paternity pay.
Employee Reward Scheme
The umbrella company sector is pretty saturated. Therefore, to try and win new business, umbrella companies often offer little extras as part of their service. Recently, one extra that we’ve seen grow in popularity is granting employees access to an employee reward scheme such as Perkbox. Such schemes will allow you to save money when shopping online, visiting the high street, eating out and going to popular attractions or the cinema. If you like this idea, find an umbrella with an employee reward scheme.
Employees National Insurance Contributions
Employees are required to pay Employees National Insurance Contributions through Pay As You Earn (HMRC’s tax system). When you use an umbrella company, you will see the Employees NI deductions on your payslip. For the latest rates of NI, visit the government's website
Employer's Liability Insurance
Employer's Liability Insurance is the cover that compensates employer's should a worker (or ex-worker) suffer from illness or injury on the job – and subsequently make a claim.
Employer's National Insurance Contributions
When using an umbrella company, the umbrella cannot cover Employer's National Insurance Contributions because they do not benefit directly from any of the work employees undertake (because they're working for their end client, not the umbrella). Therefore, the Employer's National Insurance Contributions are passed onto the worker and will be deducted from the assignment rate (the negotiated rate before an assignment is accepted). If you're new to contracting or haven't used an umbrella before, it's essential to consider the Employer's National Insurance Contributions.
The employment costs consist of the Employer's National Insurance Contributions and the apprenticeship levy. Both of these are passed to the worker and are deducted from the assignment rate.
End Hirer / End Client
The end hirer / end client is the body in the supply chain that the temporary worker works for. It is the end hirer / end clients responsibility to determine the IR35 status of its temporary workers.
In the world of umbrella companies, expenses refer to costs that a worker can claim back in full or costs that are tax-exempt and can be reclaimed. It’s doubtful that umbrella company employees can benefit from being able to claim expenses because of legislation introduced in 2016 called Supervision, Direction and Control. To put it simply, the government decided too many umbrella employees were benefiting from claiming expenses
when permanent employees working in the same circumstances couldn’t.
Freelancer and Contractor Services Association (FCSA)
The Freelancer and Contractor Services Association (FCSA) is the leading professional body in the UK dedicated to ensuring the supply chain of temporary workers is compliant. To obtain FCSA accreditation
, umbrella companies (and contractor accountants) must undergo a series of rigorous and intense assessments and audits conducted by approved third parties. Only once an umbrella has proven they fully abide by the FCSA's Codes of Compliance
(available publicly online) can it earn FCSA accreditation. We recommend only considering using an umbrella company with professional accreditation from the FCSA or Professional Passport (another leading professional body).
When negotiating your assignment rate with your agency or client, you need to consider holiday pay, which your umbrella will pay you each time they run your payroll. Holiday pay
is a reallocation of your assignment rate and will be shown on your payslip as 12.07%. As your employer, umbrellas need to process holiday pay for you legally, and it’s taken from your assignment rate (meaning you’re no better or worse off, but the umbrella company isn’t giving you a 12.07% uplift). Most umbrella companies will allow you to have holiday pay processed each payment frequency or accrued and paid in a lump sum later. We recommend you have it paid each payment frequency – as we’ll explain. Holiday pay is a hot topic. While a majority of compliant umbrella companies process it ethically and efficiently, there have been a few cases where “compliant” umbrellas have been accused of retaining accrued holiday pay
of employees for themselves. This practice is appalling, and all umbrella employees must understand that holiday pay is theirs and the umbrella should never pocket it. Before registering with an umbrella company, discuss holiday pay and make it clear you want it paid each payment frequency – to avoid any potential issues.
Permanent employees pay tax through Pay As You Earn
(PAYE) – HMRC’s tax system for collecting income tax and National Insurance. This means umbrella employees will see income tax on their payslips, and the amount depends on total earnings (higher earners will pay more tax). There is tax-free allowance – an amount you can earn before paying any tax. This is currently £12,570 for the 2022/23 tax year. The current rates of income tax are:
- Personal Allowance – up to £12,570, 0% rate of tax
- Basic rate – £12,571 to £50,270, 20% rate of tax
- Higher rate – £50,271 to £150,000, 40% rate of tax
- Additional rate – over £150,000, 45% rate of tax
Compliant umbrella companies will provide employees with comprehensive insurance cover
, including Employers Liability Insurance, Public Liability Insurance and Professional Indemnity Insurance. If you require additional insurance, many umbrella companies have excellent relationships with specialist contractor insurance providers, so don’t hesitate to ask for increased protection if necessary.
is legislation introduced by the government in 2000 to ensure ‘disguised employees’ pay their fair share of tax. A temporary assignment is either inside IR35 or outside IR35, and it’s the end hirers' responsibility to make a fair and accurate determination.
Contractors who accept a role inside IR35 will work in very similar circumstances to full-time employees and, therefore, must pay the same tax (PAYE). For inside IR35 roles, umbrella companies
are generally considered the best payroll option – for accuracy, transparency, compliance and efficiency.
Contractors who seek work outside IR35 can operate through a personal service company (PSC) and can pay themselves efficiently with a combination of salary and dividends. Anyone working on an outside IR35 assignment is considered self-employed by definition.
IT Contracting is a very popular website full of helpful resources for contractors about limited company contracting. If you require more information about personal service companies, umbrella companies, mortgages, banking, insurance and specialist guides, please visit IT Contracting
today. The site is also regularly updated with new articles which cover relevant topics impacting the sector.
Join Umbrella Company
It's important to understand the processes involved if you want to join an umbrella company. It's not very complicated, but it can be quite time-consuming. Firstly, it's a great idea to request an umbrella company calculation – to gauge your earning potential and to check the umbrella is giving you an accurate projection and isn't trying to trick you. When you've found an umbrella you want to join, there is a lot of information you will need to pass over, including your name, address, date of birth, national insurance number, bank account information, assignment details, and more. You'll also be required to provide proof of your identity and right to work in the UK. Once you have completed these steps, you'll be given a Contract of Employment, and you must read this thoroughly. Only sign and return it if you're 100% satisfied with all of its content. These are the processes involved if you want to join an umbrella company
Key Information Document (KID)
Under new employment legislation, recruitment agencies will present contractors and agency workers with a Key Information Document
before a contract is signed or agreed. The Key Information Document will give you a realistic take-home pay projection and outline the deductions you can expect to see to your pay. If you’re not given a Key Information Document, chase your recruitment agency and make sure you are issued one before signing a contract.
Leaving Umbrella Company
Assuming you’re using a reputable umbrella company, leaving should be a straightforward process. All you need to do is contact your umbrella and let them know when you will leave. You will be issued a P45, and no fees should apply. You are then free to join another umbrella company if you want to.
The only income that compliant umbrella companies retain for themselves is the margin they deduct. The margin is the umbrella's source of profit, but it also covers all the associated business costs, including software, rent, salaries, etc. Umbrella company margins vary. Most commonly, you will see weekly margins between £15 and £30 and monthly margins between £60 and £120. Umbrella margins are deducted from your gross pay, meaning you save on tax. However, be warned – some umbrella companies will quote you their net margin – which will be lower. They do this to trick you, so be prepared! The umbrella company margin is the only factor that should alter your take-home pay between providers. Let's look at a quick example. There are two umbrella companies you're interested in using, and they both have a £20 per week margin. In this scenario, you should retain exactly the same amount of your take-home pay with each - to the penny, because the only thing that should impact your pay retention is the umbrella company margin
, and in this scenario - it's the same.
My Digital is a leading provider of umbrella company software. They provide software for umbrella companies to use in their back end – to aid administration and streamline payroll processes. However, they also create front-end cloud software (portal and app) designed especially for contractors, and this will give them access to payslips, a tool to upload timesheets, etc. My Digital
are leaders in secure software solutions and have excellent levels of protection to help umbrellas and contractors stay safe online against cyber threats.
National insurance is a tax paid on your earnings – whether self-employed (outside IR35) or working for an employer in a full-time position. There are several brackets of national insurance payments. The below is taken directly from the government\'s website
- Class 1: Employees earning more than £242 a week and under State Pension age - they’re automatically deducted by your employer.
- Class 1A or 1B: Employers pay these directly on their employee’s expenses or benefits.
- Class 2: Self-employed people earning profits of £6,725 or more a year. If you’re earning less than this, you can choose to pay voluntary contributions to fill or avoid gaps in your National Insurance record.
- Class 3: Voluntary contributions - you can pay them to fill or avoid gaps in your National Insurance record.
- Class 4: Self-employed people earning profits of £11,909 or more a year.
When you use an umbrella company, you are an employee and will be subjected to employee national insurance contributions. However, you will also need to consider the employment costs, including the Apprenticeship Levy and the employer’s national insurance contributions. Umbrella company employees will see these deductions on their payslips as well. To avoid a loss of funds, umbrella company contractors must consider the employment costs when negotiating the rate of pay with an agency or end hirer. Many agencies offer inflated pay rates to those who opt to use an umbrella –to cover the employment costs.
When you join an umbrella company, you will be asked to send them your latest P45 – a document you should have received when you left your last job (assuming it was permanent or you were paid via an umbrella company). If you don’t have a P45 – don’t worry. You can complete a short online form on the government’s website called - Starter Checklist for PAYE
. By handing over a P45 or completing a Starter Checklist for PAYE, you will help the umbrella company ensure you’re on the correct tax code, meaning you won’t pay too much tax. Don’t forget to request your P45 when you leave your umbrella company.
All umbrella company contractors will receive a payslip
when paid, which will showcase the gross rate of pay (assignment rate) and all of the deductions that have been made (resulting in the total net salary for the specific pay period). The deductions you should expect to see on your payslip
if you’re using an umbrella company are income tax (PAYE), employee’s national insurance contributions, the umbrella company’s margin, pension contributions (if applicable), student loan repayments (if applicable), holiday pay and employment costs.
As the employer, umbrella companies must legally enrol employees into a pension
scheme. Usually, umbrellas will have a preferred pension provider that they enrol employees into within 12 weeks. It’s no secret that most umbrella employees don’t like the idea of being opted into a pension. However, it is possible to opt out, but only once the first contribution has been made (but it can be reclaimed). A small selection of umbrella companies can help contractors with salary sacrifice for pensions. This allows employees to contribute a significant percentage of their salary to a private pension scheme tax-efficiently. If this is something you’re interested in, seek an umbrella that can assist with salary sacrifice and ask them for a take-home pay calculation.
Personal Service Company (PSC)
A personal service company (PSC) is generally regarded as a limited company with a sole director. Operating through a PSC outside IR35 is a popular choice for contractors seeking to maximise their take-home pay retention legally.
Many of the most popular umbrella companies in the UK will grant employees access to an online portal. A portal is a cloud-based platform where umbrella employees can log in, view payslips, submit work hours, and carry out additional administrative tasks. Portals are generally considered time-saving tools – assuming they’re up to date. It’s common for umbrellas also to grant employees access to a mobile app – a very similar platform to an online portal accessible via a website. Umbrella portal mobile apps will also allow employees to view payslips, submit hours etc. and appeal to a large percentage of temporary workers using umbrellas for payroll purposes. While a few umbrella companies may have their own in-house portals available to employees, most will team up with a third-party provider such as My Digital
Preferred Supplier List (PSL)
Suppose you are a temporary worker who sources assignments through a recruitment agency. In that case, you will probably have been given a Preferred Supplier List (PSL) from your point of contact at the agency. A PSL is a list of approved suppliers (in this case, umbrella companies) that the agency will allow you to use for payroll purposes. Sometimes, the agency will insist you choose an umbrella company on your PSL, or they will not allow you to work on the assignment. Contractors should never feel forced into using an umbrella company
. However, assuming your recruitment agency is trustworthy, a PSL is usually a beneficial asset because the agency will have carefully vetted each umbrella to ensure they operate compliantly and in your best interests. You must conduct thorough due diligence to ensure any umbrella you consider using abides by the strict tax rules in place by HMRC.
Professional Indemnity Insurance
The best umbrella companies
will include Professional Indemnity Insurance in their standard payroll service - ensuring you're protected. But what is Professional Indemnity Insurance? To put it simply, Professional Indemnity Insurance
will protect you against any claims made by your end-client or third parties if they deem your work to have been completed negligently (including poor quality services and advice). The insurance will cover any compensation claims etc.
Professional Passport is a very well-respected professional body in the UK that campaigns to protect temporary workers in the UK. Professional Passport
, like the FCSA, offers professional accreditation to payroll providers (including contractor accountants and umbrella companies). Obtaining accreditation is a big deal because organisations must undergo a series of in-depth assessments to ensure they are compliant with HMRC’s rules and regulations. The Professional Passport website states: “Our compliance standards go further and are designed to not only ensure that providers we recommend operate compliantly within HMRC tax rules but also across the many other areas of legislation that apply. We require the highest level of transparency in their operations to ensure workers are clear on any arrangements entered in to.”
Public Liability Insurance
Public Liability Insurance is essential because it will protect you against any claims made by the public that have resulted from failures in completing your tasks to the agreed standards. Public Liability Insurance includes the cost of any compensation for loss of earnings, injury or loss to anyone in the general public. Most umbrella companies will include Public Liability Insurance in their employees' standard payroll service. Always check what cover is included before registering with an umbrella company.
Registration with an umbrella company is a reasonably thorough process. Still, it needs to be for the umbrella to register you legitimately and to be able to process your payroll legally. Usually, you will need to undergo the following stages of registration before you can officially become an employee of an umbrella company (and be paid compliantly):
- Request a take home pay calculation to gauge your likely pay retention should you join the umbrella.
- If you want to register with an umbrella, you can usually do so over the phone or by completing an online registration form. You will be required to share several pieces of personal information including name, address, date of birth, NI number, bank information, assignment details, and more.
- Once you have completed the initial registration process, you will need to provide the umbrella company with proof of your identity and Right to Work (RTW) in the UK.
- The umbrella company, as your employer, will send you a Contract of Employment and you will need to read it thoroughly. Only once you have read the entire document and you’re satisfied with its content should you sign and return it. You will also need to provide your umbrella with a P45 document, or a Starter Checklist for PAYE
- When you’ve signed and returned the Contractor of Employment, you will need to understand the processes involved for you to be paid on time (e.g. uploading timesheets etc.). At this stage, registration is complete and you will be an employee of the umbrella.
Reimbursed Expenses Reimbursed expenses
are tax-free business expenses that your recruitment agency or end client has agreed to reimburse you. For example, mobile workers who are required to travel away from their primary place of work may be able to claim certain business-related travel and subsistence expenses.
Right to Work (RTW)
As your employer, it is a legal requirement for umbrella companies to request proof of your right to work in the UK before your employment commences. If you are a British or Irish Citizen, you can provide a clear copy of your passport or birth certificate as proof of your right to work in the UK. If you are a foreign national, please use the government’s online right to work checking service
to generate a share code and send this to your umbrella company and your date of birth.
Salary Sacrifice (Pensions) Salary sacrifice
is an agreement to reduce your salary, and in return, your employer will give you a non-cash benefit, such as an increased contribution to your pension. Salary sacrifice is beneficial if you have an existing pension scheme in place to which you would like to continue making contributions or to make more significant contributions towards your pension.
Same Day Faster Payments
Faster payments is a service that allows the transfer of funds in minutes or hours rather than days. Most umbrella companies will have a deadline for which they can accept funds from your recruitment agency or end client to ensure they can process the tax deductions and pay you the same day.
Scheme Reference Number (SRN)
A Scheme Reference Number (SRN)
is a number that HMRC allocates to a tax avoidance scheme either after the scheme is disclosed to them or when they reasonably suspect a scheme is notifiable. The allocation of an SRN allows HMRC to identify and track users of tax avoidance schemes.
Self-Billing Recruitment Agency
A self-billing arrangement is a formal agreement between a recruitment agency and an umbrella company. On the day you are due to be paid, your agency will send the funds and a breakdown of the hours you have worked to your umbrella company. The umbrella company will then process the tax deductions and make a net payment to you.
is a cloud and app-based payroll software platform designed to help umbrella companies and recruitment agencies. Solutio streamlines the payroll process by aligning all transactions from each supply chain entity, including client, agency and worker.
Starter Checklist For PAYE
If you do not have a P45, you can complete a Starter Checklist for PAYE. The Starter Checklist for PAYE
will provide your new employer with all the information required to complete your payroll and ensure you are placed on the correct tax code.
Supervision, Direction and Control (SDC) Supervision, Direction and Control (SDC)
was enacted on the 6th April 2016. SDC rules were put in place to ensure contractors operating similarly to permanent employees (i.e. subject to SDC) cannot receive tax relief on expenses incurred during work. The definitions for SDC are as follows:
– Supervision applies when someone oversees the work to ensure it is completed to the desired standard. Supervision can also involve helping the person to develop their knowledge and skills.
– Direction applies when someone is providing instructions, guidance or advice on how you should complete the work. They may also coordinate how the work is being undertaken.
– Control applies when someone dictates how you should complete the work and what work needs to be completed. Control also includes the power to move workers from one job to another.
Switching Umbrella Companies
There are many reasons why you may decide to switch umbrella company. Perhaps you have found an umbrella company that offers a better margin, or you were not happy with the service provided by your current company. Please take a look at our umbrella company comparison guide
for tips to consider when switching umbrella companies.
Take Home Pay Calculation (Umbrella)
Before registering with an umbrella company, most contractors will request a take-home pay calculation
from a couple of umbrella companies. Take-home pay calculations are an excellent way to see how much you could take home each week/month and the tax deductions made to your pay.
Tax Avoidance Schemes Tax avoidance schemes
are companies set up to enable workers to pay less than the legal amount of tax and National Insurance. Registering with a compliant umbrella company can expect to retain roughly 55-70% of your earnings after all tax deductions are made. Any company offering you significantly more than this is probably a tax avoidance scheme. HMRC has named several tax avoidance schemes
you should avoid at all costs.
The Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed (IPSE) The Association Of Professional Staffing Companies (APSCo) Timesheets
A timesheet is a way to keep a record of how many hours you have worked each week or month. Your manager must sign off a timesheet before being submitted to your recruitment agency or umbrella company (if they require a timesheet to be submitted). Your agency or umbrella company will then invoice your end client for payment for the hours you have submitted.
Top 10 Umbrella Companies
To help make your life easier, the team at umbrellacompanies.org.uk has put together a list of our top 10 umbrella companies
. Each of the top 10 is accredited by the FCSA or Professional Passport. And some have special offers at the moment. Please check them out now.
Umbrella Company Calculator / Umbrella Company Calculations
An umbrella company calculator is a special tool online which is designed to present you with an accurate take-home pay projection if you were to use an umbrella company
for your payroll. We have built an Umbrella Company Calculator
that you may want to try out for free. It’s a clever tool and takes a lot of factors into consideration, including tax brackets, NI, employment costs, pension contributions, student loan repayments, the £100,000 abatement, and more.
Umbrella Company Directory
An umbrella company directory
, unsurprisingly, is a list of umbrella companies. However, some lists are far better than others! Take our umbrella company directory, for example. It contains over 100 umbrella companies, and they're all accredited by either the FCSA or Professional Passport. We recommend you take a look because a lot of helpful information is available. And remember - always carry out thorough due diligence when choosing an umbrella for your payroll because you must use a compliant one!
Umbrella Company Quote
If you want to know your expected pay retention with an umbrella company, you can ask an umbrella for a quote. This should be based entirely on your circumstances and accurately represent your earning potential. The best, most accurate umbrella company quotes
will show you a breakdown of what you should retain and the deductions you’ll see on your payslip. Unfortunately, a few umbrella companies deliberately inflate their quotes to try and trick contractors and freelancers into choosing their service over the competition. You must understand how umbrella companies work and gauge an accurate idea of what you should earn with an umbrella (PAYE). This will allow you to be vigilant and identify umbrella companies trying to mislead you.