Contractor checking the employment status for tax

Check employment status for tax in the UK – all you need to know in 2023

Are you uncertain about how to accurately determine your employment status for tax purposes? Understanding this critical aspect is not just a bureaucratic formality; it’s a financial imperative.

Incorrect classification can lead to unexpected fines and legal complications. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll provide you with the essential information and tools you need to check your employment status for tax in the UK confidently.

From the nuances of being an employee, self-employed, or a contractor to leveraging government tools and professional advice, we’ve got you covered. Continue reading to secure your financial future and meet all legal obligations.

Picture this—being slapped with a hefty fine just because you didn’t classify yourself properly. Knowing your employment status can save you from legal headaches and unexpected fines.

We’ll start by dissecting what ’employment status’ really is, and then we’ll jump into the nitty-gritty of tax rates and legal obligations. Along the way, we’ll tackle some myths, reveal some truths, and even share some real-life stories.

Understanding employment status

Think of your employment status as your relationship status but with your employer. It’s complicated, and it affects your tax life big time.

  • Employee: You’re pretty much married to your company.
  • Self-Employed: It’s complicated, but you’re seeing other clients.
  • Contractor: You’re in an open relationship with multiple clients.

Employment status defines your work relationship and is a key player in your tax game.


Let’s break it down further:


You clock in, you clock out. The company takes care of your income tax and national insurance. Sounds easy, right? But there’s more:

  • Tax: Automatically deducted.
  • Benefits: Holiday and sick pay.


You’re the boss. You chase clients, manage your time, and handle your taxes. Your perks and pitfalls:

  • Tax: You manage it yourself.
  • Benefits: Freedom, but also financial risk.


You’re a free agent, moving from project to project. You operate through your own company, and that means:

  • Tax: You sort it out.
  • Contracts: Specific to each job.

Understanding your type helps you navigate the tax maze more effectively.

Why your employment status matters for tax purposes

Tax rates

Here’s the deal: Your pocket will feel the impact of your employment status. If you’re an employee, your company plays the taxman for you. Self-employed or a contractor? The taxman cometh and you’re the one who has to pay him.

Table: Tax implications by employment status

Employment StatusIncome TaxNational InsuranceFinancial Risk
EmployeeHandled by employerYesLow

Your employment status dictates your tax rates and legal obligations. Get it right, or your wallet will suffer.

How to check your employment status

Government resources

So you’re ready to find out where you stand and want the no-frills, straightforward route? Say hello to HMRC’s CEST tool. It’s like a GPS for your tax life, directing you toward your employment status.

It’s not the end-all-be-all, but it’s a solid start. Here’s why:

  • Free: Yep, zero pounds.
  • Quick: It takes only a few minutes.

The CEST tool is your quick and free first stop to understanding your employment status. But remember, it’s just the start.

Online tools

If the CEST tool left you with more questions than answers, don’t fret. There’s a whole world of online tools at your disposal. They range from the ‘bare-bones’ to the ‘Cadillac of tax tools,’ and here’s the kicker—they can be industry-specific. Whether you’re in construction or consulting, there’s a tool tailored for you.

Top Picks:

  • Kingsbridge Status Tool: It is not free but worth every penny for its accuracy.
  • IR35 Shield: A detailed, albeit pricier, option.

Multiple tools can help you pinpoint your employment status; just pick the one that fits your needs and budget.

Consult a tax advisor

When you’ve hit a wall, and online tools just aren’t cutting it, it’s time to bring in the big guns—a tax advisor. They’re like the Sherlock Holmes of taxes, dissecting your contracts and working conditions to determine your true status.

Why they’re invaluable:

  • Expert Advice: These folks eat, sleep, and breathe tax codes.
  • Tailored Guidance: One-size-fits-all rarely works in tax matters.

When in doubt, consult a tax advisor. They offer the expertise that tools can’t.

Using the HMRC’s CEST tool


Let’s get practical. You’ve opened up the CEST tool and are now staring at a series of questions. Each one is a puzzle piece that forms the big picture of your employment status. Here’s how to go about it:

  1. Read each question carefully: They’re crafted by tax experts.
  2. Be honest: Fudging details will only hurt you later.
  3. Review the result: Take it as your first clue, not your final answer.

Using the CEST tool is like taking a mini-exam; read carefully, answer honestly, and interpret the results as a starting point.

Pros and Cons

Not to burst your bubble, but the CEST tool isn’t perfect. It’s one of the best employment checkers—good for many things but master of none.

  • Pros: Free and quick.
  • Cons: Lacks nuance and may require further investigation.

The CEST tool is a good first step, but it might not be your last for more complex cases.

CEST Tool: A snapshot of usage data

The UK government’s Check Employment Status for Tax (CEST) tool has been a go-to resource for many, with over 12 million determinations made since its launch in 2017. This high usage rate suggests that both employers and employees find the tool to be a reliable guide for tax-related employment status.

Interestingly, the tool has a low rate of “undetermined” outcomes, clocking in at just 2%. This indicates that the tool effectively provides clear guidance for most users.

Why the CEST tool’s data matters

The high volume of determinations and the low rate of “undetermined” outcomes speak volumes about the tool’s reliability and effectiveness.

If you’re an employer or an employee trying to navigate the complex landscape of employment taxes, these statistics offer reassurance that the CEST tool is a dependable resource. The data also underscores the tool’s role in helping individuals and businesses comply with tax regulations, making it an essential part of the UK’s tax infrastructure.

Common mistakes to avoid in employment relationships

Incorrect classification

Picture yourself cruising on a highway, then suddenly hitting a speed bump that you didn’t see coming—that’s what incorrect classification feels like. One moment, you’re a free-wheeling freelancer, and the next, the taxman has you pegged as an employee. Here’s what you stand to lose:

  • Unpaid taxes: You owe money, friend.
  • Legal penalties: Consider it a financial slap on the wrist, but it stings.

Classifying yourself incorrectly is like stepping on a tax landmine; it’s messy and painful.

Missing deadlines

Imagine you’re in a relay race, but you drop the baton. That’s what missing a tax deadline feels like. It’s not just about you; it’s a collective fumble that affects your financial record. Whether you’re an employee, self-employed, or a contractor, here are the stakes:

  • Late fees: The meter is running.
  • Interest rates: They’re stacking up.

Time waits for no one, especially not the taxman. Mark your calendar, set reminders, and do whatever it takes to meet those deadlines.

Not consulting professionals

Here’s the twist: Sometimes, the hero needs a sidekick, and in the world of taxes, that sidekick is often a tax advisor or legal consultant. Going solo might seem brave, but it can also be foolish.

  • Blind spots: You don’t know what you don’t know.
  • Financial risks: One wrong move can cost you dearly.

Don’t be the lone wolf who ends up cornered. A professional advisor can be your guide through the tax maze, showing you the way and helping you dodge.

Case studies: Real-world examples


Meet Sarah. She’s creative, ambitious, and unfortunately, a victim of misclassification. She freelanced for multiple clients but worked so closely with one that HMRC decided she was an employee in disguise. Sarah faced:

  • Back taxes: A hefty bill that drained her savings.
  • Penalties: A financial penalty that was more than just pocket change.

Sarah’s story is a cautionary tale. It’s not enough to think you’re in the clear; you have to be sure.

Success stories

Now, let’s talk about Tom. He’s the guy who always reads the fine print, and it pays off. Tom juggles multiple contracts, and each time he lands a new one, he rechecks his employment status. His secrets:

  • Regular checks: Tom never lets his status get stale.
  • Professional consultation: He keeps a tax advisor on speed dial.

Tom’s story is the playbook for doing it right. He stays informed, up-to-date, and avoids the pitfalls that snagged Sarah.

Let’s say you’re a Jack or Jill of all trades—self-employed here, employed there. It’s like having your fingers in multiple pies, but beware, each pie has its own recipe for tax. The rundown:

  • Employed: Taxes are automated.
  • Self-Employed: Manual tax work needed.

Juggling multiple statuses? Keep a tight grip; you’ve got different tax obligations for each.


“How often should I check?” you ask. Well, think of it like a car service; you do it regularly and especially when something changes. Got a new client? Check. Changed your work hours? Double-check.

Keep your employment status under regular review; it’s not a ‘set and forget’ deal.


You’ve changed your status—now what? Picture changing lanes on a highway; you’ve got to signal. A heads-up to HMRC is in order if you’re shifting from self-employed to employed. And don’t forget:

  • Inform HMRC: It’s a must.
  • Check with your employer: Ensure they’ve set up PAYE.

Changing lanes in the employment highway requires signals. Notify the necessary parties, or risk a collision with the taxman.

FAQ – Check employment status for tax

How can I determine if I’m an employee or a contractor for tax?

To determine your employment status for tax purposes, you should consider factors like how much control you have over your work, whether you have to provide a personal service, and the level of financial risk you take on. The rules can differ depending on where you are, but you can use the Check Employment Status for Tax (CEST) tool by HMRC to help sort this out in the UK.

What’s the difference between an employee and a self-employed person?

The main difference boils down to control. If you’re an employee, your company calls the shots. They set your hours, tasks, and how you do your job. If you’re self-employed, you get to make those calls yourself.

How does IR35 affect employment status?

IR35 is a UK tax law that helps you determine if you’re an employee or self-employed for tax purposes. If you’re more like an employee, then the company hiring you has to make sure they’re taking out Income Tax and employee National Insurance from what they pay you.

What are the tax bits I need to know about employment status?

If you’re an employee, your boss will take care of deducting Income Tax and National Insurance from your pay. But if you’re self-employed, that’s on you to sort out.

What factors are considered for tax purposes?

Factors like the level of control, whether you can send someone else to do your job, and financial risk are all considered when figuring out your employment status for tax.

Are there any tools or resources to help me check my employment status for tax?

Sure thing! In the UK, there’s the Check Employment Status for Tax (CEST) tool by HMRC. Plus, there’s the Kingsbridge IR35 Status Tool for checking out your IR35 status.

How good is the Check Employment Status for Tax (CEST) tool by HMRC?

It’s a handy tool for sure, but it doesn’t cover every situation. If you’re not sure, best to chat with a tax pro for advice tailored to you.

Any special rules for certain jobs?

Yep, some jobs have special rules regarding employment status for tax. It’s always a good idea to check with a tax expert to make sure you’re on the right track.

Are there any other tools besides the CEST tool?

You bet! Another tool you can use is the Kingsbridge IR35 Status Tool. It’s pretty robust, giving you real-time reports and even manual review options.

What is employment status?

Employment status is the legal tie between you and your company. It sets the stage for things like how you’re paid, the benefits you get, and who’s responsible for taxes and National Insurance.


Understanding your employment status for tax purposes is more than just a formality—it’s a financial and legal cornerstone. The implications of getting it wrong can be costly, ranging from unexpected fines to legal complications.

This guide has walked you through the essentials, from the different types of employment statuses and their tax implications to the tools and resources available for making an accurate determination.

While online tools like the CEST are handy, they’re just the start. Don’t hesitate to talk to a tax pro if things get tricky. After all, when it comes to taxes, it’s better to know than to guess.