Revenue refuses to commission probe into courier industry

Revenue refuses to commission probe into courier industry

How couriers were considered under employment status was up for scrutiny. Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire

The Revenue Commissioners have refused to commission an independent investigation into the issue of bogus self employment in the courier industry.

The investigation had been recommended by the Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee in June on foot of a deal struck between the Revenue and courier firms in March 1997 which led to such workers being treated as self-employed. This was done “in the interest of uniformity”, Revenue has previously said.

An update to the PAC delivered via the Commissioners’ lead body the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform noted that Revenue “does not accept this recommendation”.

Revenue said that it “does not have the powers to set up and commission an independent investigation and there is no legal basis” for it to do so.

Employment status

Bogus self-employment, which sees people who are to all intents and purposes fully employed by a private entity denied the statutory social insurance contributions that PAYE workers receive, is an issue which affects many industries, including construction, IT, and transport workers, such as couriers.

Sinn Féin TD and Chair of the Public Accounts Committee Brian Stanley. Picture: Gareth Chaney/Collins
Sinn Féin TD and Chair of the Public Accounts Committee Brian Stanley. Picture: Gareth Chaney/Collins

PAC had asked that Revenue commission the investigation in order to assess the magnitude of revenue lost to the State as a result of the practice among couriers, the number of workers impacted by the agreement in the sector; and the financial cost to those workers.

In its response to the PAC recommendation, Revenue said that three agencies, not including the Commissioners themselves, currently make decisions with regard to a worker’s employment status.

“Decisions relating to the class of social insurance an individual should pay is outside Revenue’s remit and is a matter for the Department of Social Protection,” it said.

Revenue added that the “arrangement” with the courier sector stemmed from companies opting to “withhold, and pay to Revenue, tax on the courier’s behalf through the PAYE system”.

“A courier had to be self-employed to be included in the arrangement,” it said.

"Disappointing" refusal

PAC chair Brian Stanley described the refusal as “disappointing”, but noted that three of PAC’s recommendations had been accepted, including a commitment to ensure a minimum of 4,000 site visits each year in order to ascertain levels of bogus self employment within industry.

“If they don’t have the power, it may be necessary for someone else to investigate this, or for the Attorney General to divine who can,” Mr Stanley said. “There is nothing to stop Revenue examining this issue closely themselves.”

“We have to stay on top of this, it’s a huge matter for the public finances,” he added.

Activist Martin McMahon, who has campaigned for employee status for the bogus self employed for more than 20 years, said he “wasn’t surprised” by the Revenue’s refusal, but added that it is “very unusual” that they should do so.

“I’m not surprised because I’ve been stonewalled for 21 years on this,” Mr McMahon said. “All those couriers who operated under the system were employees — they worked for one company, they were paid by one company. And Revenue have all the receipts so it should be easy for them to quantify the cost.”

The refusal shows “Revenue doesn’t want the system to change”, he said, adding that bogus self employment amounts to “a manipulation of the live register”.

“The work that these people are doing is costing us all on our pensions,” he said.

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