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inniAccounts is speaking up for contractors, making tax reforms a national talking point

James Poyser of inniAccounts.

MakeitBe won the Grand Prix at The Drum PR Awards 2020 with its ‘IR35 off-payroll’ campaign for inniAccounts. Read how this small budget campaign has made a remarkable impact on the fight for fair pay, speaking up for contractors all over the UK.

The challenge

InniAccounts is an online accountancy for self-employed contractors, consultants and freelancers. In December 2019 its quarterly customer survey highlighted that its customers thought it should do more to lobby for changes to IR35 tax reforms.

The legislation is designed to ensure a contractor is not a disguised employee for the purposes of tax, but unfair implementation of the reform by companies meant contractors were being banned, or finding they were paying employer and employee tax without any employment rights. Work was drying up, people faced financial hardship, their mental health was suffering.

It would have been easy for inniAccounts to say it was too small to fight the battle, but it decided not to let its size, or small budget (£8,000), stop it from making an impact.

The strategy

The specific PR brief was to first gather evidence that could be used to lobby the Lords’ Select Committee on the Finance Bill, then lobby influential MPs, including the chancellor, for a change to the proposed reform. Finally, they needed to educate the media on the IR35 reform and the repercussions of it going ahead without revisions.

Media targets included tier 1 sector-specific functions such as IT/ project management, functional press such as accounting, personnel and investor, general business and SME, national finance and business press, and if possible, broadcast. The audience targets were MPs, board directors (including HR and supply chain), the investment community, self-employed professionals, and membership bodies including IPSE.

The campaign

On 6 January 2020, inniAccounts launched offpayroll.org.uk as a mobile site, where clients could anonymously name and shame unfair companies. Due to high demand, the site opened up to the entire contracting community.

A LinkedIn page provided live updates and the campaign gathered pace as the stark reality of hundreds of companies making unfair assessments emerged. This insight was used to launch the site on 14 January and expose unfair clients, and fundamental flaws in the legislation. Widespread press coverage included trade and national press.

On 28 January 2020, InniAccounts chief executive James Poyser used the evidence from offpayroll.org to write to chancellor Sajid Javid, stating that contractors ‘were being demonised’ and ‘locked out of work’. He called for an urgent halt to the IR35 reform and a fairer taxation system. The letter was shared with press resulting in dozens of interviews. This positioned James Poyser as an authority on the legislation, and a spokesperson for the self-employed community, further growing the numbers of followers.

As reviews came in so trends began to emerge. This provided opportunities to survey the thousands of followers. The results were combined with financial studies by the accountants at inniAccounts, for example on UK PLC productivity gaps, to create hard-hitting press releases, generating even more national and trade press.

The press was given details of companies handling things badly, and anonymous case studies provided specific insight. This exposed numerous FTSE100 companies, created damning headlines, and highlighted the personal impact such as declining mental health and impending mortgage defaults.

Whenever the government / HMRC made an announcement the campaign was quick to issue a statement, often within minutes, generating crucial coverage. James Poyser attended the ‘Stop the Off Payroll’ march on Westminster in February, further building press, community and political relations. Amanda Solloway MP, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, asked to see the evidence to inform policy.

The results

The campaign collected over 3500 reviews of 760 end clients, was viewed (organically) 6.7m times on LinkedIn alone as followers grew each time significant news coverage was achieved, peaking at 15,000 followers. inniAccounts’ Net Promoter Score moved from 64 in Q4 2019 to 70 in Q1 2020.

Media relations alone generated 115 pieces of national / tier 1 coverage (on/offline, broadcast and podcasts) in eight weeks, with total coverage views of 997,226 according to Coverage Book metrics, and 1,302 social shares directly from coverage.

The Lords’ Finance Bill Select Committee accepted the submissions from offpayroll.org as evidence. The committee concluded IR35 is ‘riddled with problems, unfairness and unintended consequences’. Covid-19 made matters worse and the Chancellor Rishi Sunak decided it was best to postpone until 2021, but the campaign continues to ensure a review and implementation for an alternative fair tax system before then.

This project was a winner at The Drum Awards for PR in 2020. To find out which competitions in The Drum Awards are currently open for entries, click here.

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