Self-employed? Don't celebrate NI U-turn just yet!

Philip Hammond
Philip Hammond

Just one week after the Budget announcement, Chancellor Philip Hammond U-turned on the most high-profile measure - the increase of National Insurance for self-employed people. He has said it won't be increased during this parliament.

His climb-down was greeted with a sense of achievement by the Conservative backbenchers who blocked it, and a sense of relief by the self-employed, but they shouldn't be cracking open the bubbly just yet.

See also: No National Insurance increase in this Parliament, says Chancellor

See also: Self-employed tax hike 'aimed at creating fairer system'

See also: The 'gig economy' will kill your nice, secure job

While many self-employed people were justifiably angry about the threat of having to pay higher National Insurance, the move had an awful lot of support from many commentators. Tom McPhail, Head of Retirement Policy at Hargreaves Lansdown, called it: "A modest and redistributive measure which would have helped bring the self-employed National Insurance rates closer into alignment with the increased state pension benefits they now enjoy."

The fact it was stopped in its tracks was a result of the small majority that the Conservatives enjoy in the House of Commons. The government realised the measure didn't have enough support - partly because the self-employed are traditionally Conservative voters, and partly because it flew in the face of the spirit of the pledge not to raise NI in this parliament.

However, this doesn't mean the self-employed are going to get off lightly. Steven Cameron, Aegon Pensions Director, expects Hammond to have another crack at making the self-employed pay more National Insurance - but that it will be within a broader programme of improving pensions for this group.

He explains: "The policy has put the spotlight on the issue of NI and the rights and benefits of those working in the gig economy. We hope that the government will look more closely at what can be done to close disparities between the employed and the self-employed. Within pensions, we need to find a solution equivalent to auto-enrolment, using nudges for the self-employed to halt the growing retirement income divide we'll otherwise face between them and their employed peers when they come to retire. Delaying the increase allows more time for the government to come up with a pension solution for the self-employed, which could include rebating the increase in NI into a private funded pension of the self-employed individual's choice."


Other commentators are convinced that the Chancellor will find new ways of generating cash from the self-employed. Sean McCann, a chartered financial planner at NFU Mutual, says: "The true cost of this decision may still be borne by the self-employed. It's clear that the Chancellor will look to recoup money from other sources and many tax reliefs will be in his sights. The likes of Business Property Relief – used by many sole traders and partnerships to hand down family businesses free of inheritance tax – could now be under threat and any sense of relief among self-employed people could become a sense of foreboding once the autumn Budget draws near."

The Association of Independent Professionals and the Self Employed seems to have accepted that something will change, and is just hoping it won't be too painful. Chris Bryce, IPSE CEO, says: "Tax for the self-employed is an incredibly complex issue and any policy needs to be carefully considered. IPSE looks forward to working with the Government to discuss how to make taxation of this group fairer while protecting treasury receipts."

Others are worried that Hammond will cast the net wider, ushering in more tax pain for even more people. McPhail points out: "This U-turn will increase pressure in other areas of fiscal policy and may increase the risk of further pension tax tinkering in the Autumn budget."

So while the self-employed may enjoy a brief stay of execution, the hunt for more income through taxation is not over yet.