The Ultimate Guide to Umbrella Companies for Contractors

Independent contractors working at home or abroad will often use an umbrella company to manage their contracts with clients.  As their name implies, umbrella companies can shelter you from unforeseen payment and compliance problems, and will act as a go-between to connect all parties to the contract.

We have put together this guide for you that explains all that you need to know about umbrella companies.

What is an Umbrella Company?

When you set up a contract with your client, there are a few ways to organize payment and one of the easiest is to use an umbrella company.  One way to think about it is that the umbrella company acts as your ‘employer’ for the purpose of fulfilling your contract (in some countries they may actually employ you if you cant qualify as self-employed.)

This means that they will get your payment from the client and/or agency and in turn pay to you, after deducting owed taxes and other social contributions.  As a result, you don’t have to monitor the process at all once you have submitted request for payment.

So, the umbrella company is a third party intermediary working between you, your recruitment agency and the end-client to make sure that payments are made, and the client is satisfied.  It removes the uncertainty of contracting, especially across international borders.

How Does an Umbrella Company Work?

The process of using an umbrella company is fairly straightforward.  Assuming that you use an agency to find your clients for you here is how it works:

  • Umbrella company contracts with your agency
  • You as the contractor, also contract with the umbrella company
  • You submit your timesheet/project deliverables to your agency, and copy the umbrella company
  • Umbrella company invoices the agency
  • Agency invoices the client, and client pays agency
  • Client pays the agency and umbrella company is paid by agency
  • Umbrella company make necessary deductions and issues a receipt/payslip
  • The payment is sent to your designated account

Because there are often three parties involved in your contract (you, agency, client) using an umbrella company to facilitate payment and contract fulfillment gives everyone peace of mind.

Take Home Pay Using an Umbrella Company

You might wonder if using an umbrella company will affect your net take home pay compared to contracting directly with clients.  Because take home pay is determined by deducting taxes and contributions, the net amount should be the same depending on your tax bracket.

The umbrella company will also deduct a percentage fee for their services, so that is a small reduction in take home pay (unless you can add it to the bid for your client, since they benefit as well from the security of using an umbrella company.)

There may be some differences if you are using a limited company which may have some effect on how taxes are calculated.  The reason is because a limited company can take advantage of corporate tax and expense rules and increase their net income.  However, there is the cost of hiring tax or accounting assistance that must be factored in.

Should You Use an Umbrella Company?

As a contractor, you may wonder why you should use an umbrella company.  If you are used to setting up your own client contracts, have a reliable payment system and are well versed in tax and contribution requirements, you may think it is unnecessary.

However, there are some real advantages in using an umbrella company as the intermediary for all of your client projects and contracts, as they can act as third party to the transaction to ensure that everything goes smoothly.  This saves the contractor the time and effort of managing their own payments and compliance, and offers a ready resource in case any issue arises.

An umbrella company does charge a fee for their services (a fixed percentage of your contract) but that should not be a deterrent for using this valuable contracting service when you consider the time and cost saving in the event of potential non-payment of compliance problems.

Here are some of the benefits of using an umbrella company:

  • Removes uncertainty from the payment process, especially with new clients or in foreign countries
  • Increases client confidence in getting the service they pay for
  • Ensures compliance with all tax and self-employment contribution requirements
  • Automated submission of invoices and quick receipt of payments
  • Can sponsor work permits or business visas for overseas contracts
  • Will hold licenses needed in some countries for employing contractors

Alternatives to Using an Umbrella Company

There are viable alternatives to using an umbrella company, and they are worth reviewing as a point of comparison.

Limited Company

A limited company is your own entity with you as director, that will serve as the business structure for invoicing, tax payments and other corporate requirements.  Some contractors like the idea of having their own separate business to contract with clients, as it increases their autonomy and credibility, and provides some protection from liability.

Sole Trader

When you work a sole trader, it means you are self-employed as an individual.  You will invoice under your own name, file taxes as a sole proprietor and the rates will be the same as if you were an employee.  It is a way to remain independent but avoids all the complexity of a limited company.

Agency PAYE

With an agency using PAYE for your earnings and taxes, it is similar to working as an employee.  The agency takes care of the administrative tasks just like an umbrella company, but an agency may not offer the full spectrum of compliance assurance or ability to deduct expenses.  If you use an agency for recruitment it is simple to have them handle the payment process as well, and they will have some type of agreement with your clients so you wont worry about timely payment..

Difference Between an Umbrella Company and Limited Company

The main difference between an umbrella company and a limited company is that the umbrella company is a third-party entity, and a limited company is your own separate business.  An umbrella company is an intermediary who will facilitate client payment and withhold taxes and contributions on your behalf.

When you set up your own limited company it is essentially your own entity, and will handle all of the registration, incorporation and then direct contracting and invoicing of your clients.  Many contractors will need professional tax and legal assistance unless they are experienced working as a limited company.

Because of these differences, a contractor will have to decide whether they want to ease of working through an umbrella company, or the independence of starting their own limited company.  There may be some risk to using a limited company internationally, including permanent establishment leading to taxation abroad, and labor leasing restrictions (since you are employing yourself in the foreign country).

How to Choose an Umbrella Company

If you have decided on using an umbrella company the next step is to choose the best one for your situation.  Here are the areas to focus on:

  • Has the umbrella company been in business long and worked in multiple countries?
  • How is their payment track record and timing to make sure you get your money without delay?
  • Do they have a system for calculating taxes, contributions and expenses to ensure that as a contractor you are in compliance with the countries laws?
  • How much are their fees?
  • How do they deliver their services, either online/automated or through an account manager?

Once you get these questions answered you can compare different umbrella companies and make your selection.  During this process, it is a good idea to get references from other contractors.