The In’s and Out’s of Employing Children – Things You Should Know

Can You Pay Your Children?

Paying salaries to your children is a good way to reduce your taxable profits but which children can you legally employ?

With some limited exceptions for specific jobs (e.g. acting or modelling), it is generally illegal to employ children under 13. This will rule out most businesses from employing very young children, although there will be exceptions.

The position for 13-year olds depends on local by-laws. Some areas allow them to do limited work, some allow them to do the same work as a 14-year-old and some do not allow them to work at all.

Children under school leaving age may do ‘light work’ (e.g. office work) provided that it does not interfere with their education or affect their health and safety. Certain types of work (e.g. factory work) are prohibited and any business employing children under school leaving age must obtain a permit from the local authority.

Subject to these points, children still attending school can work up to two hours most days. On Saturdays and weekdays during school holidays this is increased to eight hours (five hours if under 15). Working hours must fall between 7 am and 7 pm and are subject to an overall limit of 12 hours per week during term time or 35 hours during school holidays (25 hours if under 15). The child must also have at least two weeks of uninterrupted holiday each calendar year. 16 and 17 year olds over compulsory school age can generally work up to 40 hours per week and can do most types of work, although some additional health and safety regulations apply. Children aged 18 or more are mostly subject to the same employment rules as anyone else, including the working time directive.

In essence, therefore, you can generally employ any of your children aged 13 or more and pay them a salary which is deductible from your own business income.


How Much Can You Pay?

A salary paid to a child must be justified by the amount of work which they actually do in your business. If you employed your 15-year old daughter to answer your office phone one hour each evening, you could not justify paying her a salary of £30,000, but a salary of, say, £1,500 should be acceptable.

The national minimum wage applies to any employee aged 16 or more, with reduced rates for those aged under 21 or undergoing training.

Subject to this, however, there is no fixed rate of pay which applies to children. The rate paid must, however, be commercially justified – in other words, no more than you would pay to a non- family member with the same level of experience and ability in the job. For a child with no experience carrying out unskilled work, the national minimum wage for 16 to 17 year olds (currently £3.68 per hour) represents a good guide. Where the child has some experience, or the role requires some skill, a higher rate will often be justified.

Assuming that a rate of £5 per hour can be justified, the maximum salaries which a child could earn would be approximately as follows:

13/14 year olds: £3,780

15+ but still school age: £4,380

Over school age but under 18: £10,400

Subject to this, a salary of up to £8,105 could be paid tax-free to a child aged under 16 with no other income. For those aged 16 or more, any salary in excess of £7,488 will give rise to employer’s National Insurance at 13.8% and any salary in excess of £7,605 will also give rise to employee’s National Insurance at 12%.

Within these limits, every £100 of salary paid to a child by a higher rate tax-paying sole trader will save £42. Savings of up to £62 will be available in some cases.

Looked at another way, a higher rate taxpayer needs before tax income of £172.41 to be able to put £100 into a child’s hands as pocket money. Alternatively, you can get them to do some work, pay them £100 and be left with £72.41 to spare (£42 after tax).

Better still, if you’re also claiming Tax Credits, that £100 paid to the child could save you £83!

(£40 Income Tax, £2 National Insurance and £41 Tax Credits)


Freelance Children

Adult children may sometimes have their own business. In fact, although unusual, it is also possible for younger children to set up their own business.

For example, let us suppose that your 16 year-old daughter is particularly good with computers.

There is nothing to stop her setting up her own IT consultancy. You could then give her the contract for the maintenance of your office computers and pay her a normal commercial rate for the work.

You will get a deduction for the amount paid to your daughter. She will be taxable on her business profits in the normal way but this structure has one major advantage over employing her: National Insurance. She will only pay National Insurance at 9% on profits in excess of £7,605 and you will not have to pay any employer’s National Insurance.

Where one of your children provides services to your business, the usual rules on employment status will apply to determine whether they are employed or self-employed. There will, however, tend to be a higher burden of proof in borderline cases.

For children under 16, there is no National Insurance on any form of income, so it will probably be simpler to employ them in any case.


Junior Partners

Taking one of your children into partnership is a good way to reduce the overall tax burden on the family. This has important legal implications but using a Limited Liability Partnership (‘LLP’) is a good way to safeguard the family’s private assets.

For adult children, the position is much the same as taking a spouse into partnership and, once again, has the advantage of reducing the overall National Insurance burden from 25.8% to just 9% on profits between £7,605 and £42,475 allocated to the child (and from 15.8% to 2% on any excess) when compared with a salary.

In theory, there is nothing to prevent a minor child from being taken into partnership, even though they do not yet have full legal capacity to contract in their own right.

For a partnership to exist there must be an agreement for the partners to carry on in business together with a view to profit. This agreement may be express or implied and need not be written (except for an LLP), although this is generally advisable. It must, however, be acted upon and it is here that HMRC will concentrate their attention and declare the partnership to be ‘artificial’ and thus null and void if this is not the case.

In other words, any child you take into partnership must genuinely participate in the business at a sufficient level to justify their status as a partner. Hence, you could perhaps take your 17 year-old son into partnership in your sweet shop, but you are unlikely to be able to take an eight year-old into partnership in your publishing business.

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