The Supreme Court’s decision in Pimlico Plumbers tells us one important thing about taxation of the gig economy. The tax treatment of an individual is assessed separately from the rights of a worker under employment legislation. Mr Smith, a heating and plumbing engineer, claimed before the Employment Tribunal that he was an employee of Pimlico Plumbers under a contract of service and alternatively that he was a ‘worker’. The Tribunal dismissed his employment claim but concluded he was a ‘worker’. Pimlico appealed this finding to the Supreme Court. Lord Wilson, delivering the judgement of the court, said:
“From 1970 onwards Parliament has taken the view that, while only employees under a contract of service should have full statutory protection against various forms of abuse by employers of their stronger economic position in the relationship, there were self-employed people whose services were so largely encompassed within the business of others that they should also have limited protection, in particular against discrimination but also against certain forms of exploitation on the part of those others; and for that purpose Parliament has borrowed and developed the extended definition of a “workman” first adopted in 1875.”
Later, Lord Wilson notes “Mr Smith correctly presented himself as self-employed for the purposes of income tax and VAT.”
There has been much debate on employment rights and tax treatment of individuals engaged in the so-called gig economy. The Supreme Court demonstrates that the issue goes back to 1875 – and that in some cases self-employed individuals do have additional rights, but below those of employees engaged under a contract of service.
Mr Smith was entitled to protections due to a ‘worker’ primarily because his contract with Pimlico Plumbers was one of personal service – and the company was not a client or customer of his.