Your choice of umbrella company can make a huge difference to your experience as a contractor. Your umbrella company should support you, save you time and look after your interests but not all umbrellas are equal. If you choose badly, your umbrella could make your working life much harder, and may even leave you facing HMRC investigation.

All compliant UK umbrella companies operate under the same rules, which means you can expect them all to pay you roughly the same amount. Any claims to the contrary should be taken as a serious warning sign. However, this does not mean that all umbrella companies are the same. This is what we think you should look for.

 Will you have full employment rights?

Your umbrella company will be your employer, and this gives them a raft legal obligations. You’ll be a permanent employee and as such you should have a contract of employment. This means you’re still employed by the umbrella when you’re between assignments, and it gives you one continuous employment even if you work for several different agencies and end clients. Continuous employment has numberous advantages, and can protect or improve your credit rating.

Things to look for:

  • A contract of employment. Make sure you read it and query anything you’re not sure about. A good umbrella company will be happy to answer your questions.
  • Clear processes for statutory payments like sick pay and maternity/paternity pay.
  • A clear process for accruing and claiming holiday pay. A good umbrella may even offer you a choice to either accrue holiday pay or have it paid to you in each payment.
  • A workplace pension scheme that you can choose to pay into.

Is your umbrella company easy to deal with?

You have a job to do, and your umbrella company is there to support you. Umbrella employment should simplify your contracting life, rather than complicate it and a good umbrella will make every effort to save you time and make things easier for you.

Things to look for:

  • User friendly systems
  • Simple, convenient processes for registration and submission of timesheets and expenses
  • Easy access to information like your payslips, P60s and other documents
  • Text or email alerts to inform you of important events, like payments made to your account, or timesheet approval.

Does your umbrella company provide excellent customer service?

No matter how communicative your umbrella company may be, at some point you’ll need to ask them a question. Maybe you’ll notice something usual on your payslip, or you’ll need to find out if you can claim mileage for a particular journey. Customer service – good or bad – can make all the difference, particularly when the query is about something as important as your pay.

Things to look for:

  • A dedicated team of friendly, knowledgeable staff who can deal with your queries.
  • Extended opening hours in case you need to call after work.
  • Clear turnaround times for email queries, so you know when to expect a response.
  • An easy way to provide feedback on your experience. This demonstrates a commitment to maintaining and improving service levels.

Can you trust your umbrella company’s advice?

The industry has undergone a number of important changes in recent years, like the changes to travel and subsistence expenses and the salary sacrifice rules. There may well be further upheaval in the future and you’ll need to rely on your umbrella company’s experience and expertise to navigate these changes and advise you correctly.

Things to look for:

  • Accredited FCSA membership. Accredited members have demonstrated a commitment to doing things properly and are audited annually against FCSA’s demanding standards.
  • Other accreditations; Professional Passport, Investors in People and ISO9001 are all key indicators of integrity and expertise.
  • An established company, with a strong reputation. Look for a company who have been around for some time, and come recommended by your agency or colleagues.

Does your umbrella company offer any other benefits?

As well as looking after your statutory rights, making sure you’re paid correctly and providing excellent service, your employer should care about your wellbeing. One way to demonstrate that is to look for other ways to make your contracting life more enjoyable and rewarding.

Things to look for:

  • In-house schemes, like childcare vouchers.
  • Partnerships with industry experts to help you access specialist services, like contractor mortgages and financial advice.
  • Employee rewards schemes to save you money on day to day purchases and activities.