Norfolk parish council concern over new pay rules

Small parish councils around the county have warned that new government rules banning self-employed clerks will create more paperwork and increase costs.

Until now parish clerks, many of whom work part-time and earn as little as �1,200 a year, have paid taxes by completing a tax return.

But HM Revenue and Customs has issued new guidance which would force all council clerks to switch to PAYE tax before the new tax year begins on Wednesday.

Gill Wilton, chairman of Hanworth Parish Council, said the new rules would mean she spends longer on paperwork than at council meetings.

The council has four meetings a year, each lasting for around an hour.

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The clerk at the council earns just �300 a quarter, which she declares on her self-assessment tax form.

But now she will become a registered employee of the council.

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'As we're a very small council it increases the bureaucracy and pressure and time on us which may result in us having to pay people to do the bureaucracy for us,' said Mrs Wilton.

'I very much doubt that this passes Adam Smith's first law of taxes, which is that tax shouldn't cost more to collect then the actual tax does.

'This is not Big Society, it's Big Government.

'Every rule they make is not done for the small parish council, and a clerk that is basically doing us a favour.

'It's pin money. A paperboy earns more than that,' she added.

Mrs Wilton also expressed concern that the move would make the council the clerk's employer, potentially leaving it open to more paperwork and health and safety regulations.

Anthony Urwin, chairman of Smallburgh Parish Council, said that he had sympathy for smaller councils.

'You need to be a bit more computer literate,' he said of the PAYE system.

'To be honest it's frightening if you've never used it before.

'For a small parish it would be difficult. The consequences are horrendous if you do that wrong.'

But Patrick O'Brien, spokesman for HMRC, said that there would be no extra cost in National Insurance payments, and that registering for PAYE was straightforward if given training.

'The vast majority of parish councils will not be affected. The amounts they're paying will be below any limit.'

Sue Lake, lead officer at the Norfolk Association of Local Councils, said eight training sessions are being held around the county to teach parish council staff about the changes and how to accommodate them.

'They will have to register as an employee if they haven't already done so,' she said.

'All it will cost the council is the time it will take the officer.'

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