The Department of Health has apologised for misleading the opposition about paying senior figures via limited companies to help them avoid income tax. According to one insider, the 25 cases identified by The Guardian could be “the tip of the iceberg”.
The comment mirrors that of AccountingWEB member The Black Knight, who commented on the scandal that broke around Student Loans Corporation (SLC) head Ed Lester earlier this month that government departments were “some of the biggest drivers and users of personal service companies”.
The leaked internal documents reveal that senior staff employed by the department were paid salaries direct to limited companies, with the likely effect of reducing their tax bills.
The majority of companies provided to the department are registered as business and management consultancies, however in most cases the companies' names emerge to be little more than an adaption of the individual's surname, according to payroll information leaked to The Guardian.
One Whitehall source said: "We cannot defend these arrangements, but it may be it is very common in Whitehall and this is just the tip of an iceberg."
In December shadow Cabinet Office minister Gareth Thomas asked health minister Simon Burns if any of his health department staff were paid via limited companies. In a written parliamentary answer, the minister said no payments were being made to civil servants in this way, adding: "It is not the department's policy to permit payments to civil servants by ways of limited companies."
In response to The Guardian's findings the department issued a statement on Wednesday 15 February clarifying its definition of “staff": “We can confirm that no civil servant who is an employee of the Department of Health is paid in this way. We are currently carrying out a full audit of such arrangements in line with the recently announced Treasury review of tax arrangements of public sector appointments.
“To this extent it was certainly not our intention to mislead anyone involved. We would be happy to clarify the situation in greater detail with anyone who asks and apologise for any misunderstanding involved."
The issue of whether or not the staff in question should be caught by IR35 will likely come into play, as AccountingWEB members have previously highlighted, centring on whether they declared they were caught by IR35 as “disguised employees".
Commenting on the SLC tax scandal at the start of the month Nicola Ross Martin revealed the arrangement was covered by extra statutory concession A37, and that HMRC appeared to have given Ed Lester the benefit of A37 twice.