Home Business News Expert warns businesses are now at risk HMRC’s CEST tool

Expert warns businesses are now at risk HMRC’s CEST tool

by Thea Coates Finance Reporter
26th Mar 24 7:52 am

A Freedom of Information (FOI) request to HMRC by IR35 compliance firm IR35 Shield has revealed that the underlying decision engine of HMRC’s Check Employment Status for Tax (CEST) tool relied upon by countless firms to assess IR35 status – has not been updated in five years.

This is despite explicit promises made to Parliament by the Head of HMRC that the tool would be continually revised to align with evolving case law.

The lack of updates to CEST in five years contradicts the promise made by Jim Harra, Head of HMRC, on 04 March 2019, to the Public Accounts Committee, when he told them: “We continually update the tool as new tribunal and court decisions are made about employment status, as well as continually increasing its scope so that it can respond to more and more types of cases… It is an ongoing, unending process.”

Since the last published update to the CEST decision logic, there have been 20 IR35 tax tribunal hearing decisions, including the pivotal Atholl House Court of Appeal decision, but the CEST logic has remained unchanged.

The FOI to HMRC was responded to by HMRC on 04 March 2024 and confirmed the public internet locations of the source code, and pointed to the most recent set of decision logic upon which the live tool is based. The online repository indicates the files have not been updated for 5 years.

Commenting on the latest CEST revelations, Dave Chaplin, CEO of IR35 Shield said, “The stagnation of CEST means that businesses using it to determine the IR35 status of contractors are making decisions based on outdated logic that no longer reflects the current legal landscape.

“CEST has remained frozen since 2019, despite the landmark Atholl House Court of Appeal decision that dismantled HMRC’s approach to IR35 status determinations. The FOI response provides irrefutable evidence proving CEST’s decision engine has been collecting dust for half a decade.

“Continuing to use methods based on the now-obsolete HMRC Policy View of status case law could lead to significant tax liabilities and penalties. Firms should heed the warnings and audit its compliance process.”

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